Networks: Kathleen Sebelius Exits on a 'Relatively High Note,' 'Decision to Leave Was Hers'

All three network morning shows on Friday highlighted the departure of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Good Morning America's Jon Karl insisted that the exit was a "chance for her to leave on a relatively high note." CBS This Morning's Jan Crawford claimed  that "Sebelius made clear the decision to leave was hers." Over on NBC's Today, Chuck Todd dished dirt, explaining, "In addition to the management issues, the White House also lost confidence in her ability to sell the product publicly." 

He gossiped, "Senior aides were not happy with how she struggled in what should have been a friendly interview with Jon Stewart." [See video below. MP3 audio here.] However, if Sebelius struggled, Today viewers didn't know about it for weeks after the October 7th Daily Show appearance. It wasn't until October 31, 2013 that the botched interview was mentioned on Today. Back then, Todd briefly conceded, "When she went in front of Jon Stewart at the Daily Show, that became a big problem. It became another PR problem." Despite this "PR problem," Today viewers didn't see an actual clip until Friday. 

Todd recounted: 

CHUCK TODD: Senior aides were not happy with how she struggled in what should have been a friendly interview with Jon Stewart.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: The businesses don't get subsidies. They're just gonna exchange – 

JON STEWART: So they get to delay because they're not going to get any extra money, but individuals don't, because they will?

SEBELIUS: Again, they're in the market already.

STEWART: Let me ask you this. Am I a stupid man?

TODD: After that episode, Sebelius was only seen and rarely heard. The president didn't even praise her when he claimed victory on the launch of Obamacare just last week.

On October 31, 2013, Matt Lauer gushed over the cabinet secretary: "Kathleen Sebelius went before Congress yesterday and she did something you don't see happen in Washington very often, she took the blame."

Over on CBS This Morning, Jan Crawford suggested that "Sebelius became fodder for late night comedians." Last fall, CBS This Morning managed to play clips of the Daily Show interview on October 16. 

Crawford bluntly lectured, "This will be one of Kathleen Sebelius's legacies, a website that didn't work." She described the website as "crashing on takeoff." 

However, Crawford also left no doubt that the decision to resign was solely the HHS secretary's: "Despite pressure inside and outside the White House for months to fire her, the President stood by the secretary. But Sebelius made clear the decision to leave was hers." 

On Good Morning America, Jon Karl repeatedly dubbed the rollout a disaster: 

JON KARL: Kathleen Sebelius was the public face of the disastrous Obamacare rollout. But the President for months resisted calls for him to fire her and he never publicly placed the blame directly on her for the website's disastrous start. 

He also spun, "But with the open enrollment period now over, seven million people signed up. This was a chance for her to leave on a relatively high note. " 

A transcript of the April 11 Today segment is below: 


7:06:05

MATT LAUER: Now to the resignation of a key member of the Obama administration. Word came late on Thursday that Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius is stepping down. Her time in that role highlighted by the troubled rollout of the president's landmark health care law. NBC's chief White House correspondent and political director Chuck Todd has more on this. Chuck, what's the impact?

CHUCK TODD: Well, Matt, it's going to be interesting. Later this morning, the president will make it official, confirming that he has accepted the resignation of Kathleen Sebelius, HHS secretary, and he'll be replacing her with his budget director Silvia Burwell. Of course, for Sebelius, after five years on the job, it's the end of what's been a rocky tenure.

[begin tape]

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: 400,000 additional Americans have signed up, and we expect that number to continue to grow.

TODD: That was Kathleen Sebelius on Capitol Hill Thursday, giving her a chance to turn in her resignation on a high note. While Sebelius says she was not pushed out and that she's leaving on her own terms, there have been hints for months that her job could be in jeopardy after the rocky rollout of Healthcare.gov. In our interview back in November, while the president praised Sebelius for the insurance product, he did question some of her management decisions.

BARACK OBAMA: I think she'd be the first to admit that if we had to do it all over again, that there would have been a whole lot more questions that were asked in terms of how this thing is working.

TODD: After that rollout, she became a regular target for critics in Congress.

CONGRESSMAN 1: Why aren't you losing your insurance?

SEBELIUS: Because I'm part of the federal employees

CONGRESSMAN 1: Why aren't you in the exchange? You're in charge of this law.

CONGRESSMAN 2: Will you admit that it will have a higher premium?

SEBELIUS: No, I do not. I think what a lot of actuaries – 

TODD: In addition to the management issues, the White House also lost confidence in her ability to sell the product publicly. Senior aides were not happy with how she struggled in what should have been a friendly interview with Jon Stewart.

SEBELIUS: The businesses don't get subsidies. They’re just gonna exchange – 

JON STEWART: So they get to delay because they're not going to get any extra money, but individuals don't, because they will?

SEBELIUS: Again, they're in the market already.

STEWART: Let me ask you this. Am I a stupid man?

TODD: After that episode, Sebelius was only seen and rarely heard. The president didn't even praise her when he claimed victory on the launch of Obamacare just last week. 

[end tape]

TODD: As for Silvia Burwell, Savannah, she's likely to get confirmed. That's not going to be the hard part. The hard part for her is she's going to have a tough confirmation process because Republicans are going to see an opportunity in an election year to launch, once again, a campaign against health care.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org