WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius was sworn in as U.S. health secretary on Tuesday in an Oval Office ceremony attended by President Barack Obama just hours after the Senate confirmed her nomination.
"We wanted to swear her in right away because we've got a significant public health challenge that requires her immediate attention, and that is the H1N1 flu outbreak," Obama told reporters.
"I'm thrilled that we have Secretary Sebelius taking the reins. She's going to be immediately briefed on the issues that we're working on right now," he said after the ceremony, which was conducted by the executive clerk of the White House with the president holding the Bible on which she took the oath.
After the swearing-in, Sebelius immediately went into a briefing on the flu situation with Obama's Homeland Security adviser John Brennan, White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said.
The Senate confirmed Sebelius as health secretary in a 65-31 vote earlier in the day, filling a crucial spot in Obama's cabinet amid growing fears of a possible swine flu pandemic.
The Senate brushed back Republican opposition to her nomination because of her support for abortion rights. Sebelius was tapped by Obama to lead his push to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system.
But she takes office as U.S. health officials rush to prepare for a possible widespread outbreak of a new strain of flu that has killed scores of people in Mexico and sickened at least 64 in the United States.
The confirmation of Sebelius allows Obama to fill the last open seat in his cabinet. Democrats said the swine flu outbreak made it all the more important to end the delay in filling that pivotal position.
Please note that this Swine Flu is similar to the 1918 flu pandemic that killed millions world wide. As Rachel Maddow pointed out on 27 April 2009, the stimulus bill had funding for flu prevention and preperation that was cut by Senators Collins and Snow. It was supposidly an example of pork spending that Democrat Charles Schumer was proud to cut. One wonders if the good Senators will be a proud of cutting the funding if this flu turns out to be a killer like the 1918 bug. Let's hope this swine flu turns out to be a dud like the one that threatened the world during Gerald Ford's Administration