On Tuesday, May 11, 2021, the full Senate approved Andrea Palm as the Deputy Health Secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services by a vote of 61 to 37. A significant vote considering the number of close votes for some of the President’s nominees in the 50 to 50 Senate.
One of her home state senators, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WS), voted against her despite a relatively easy vote of 20 to 8 in the Senate Finance Committee in April. Palm had served in Wisconsin’s Health Department, where she had won praise for her handling of the emergency last year.
In her remarks at the swearing-in, she said, “Our country is facing big challenges right now – and it’s our responsibility to be tireless stewards of this agency that touches nearly every aspect of American life. My focus will be on improving the lives and livelihoods of the American people: tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, efficiently and equitably distributing vaccines, expanding access to affordable health care, addressing the epidemic of substance use disorders, and improving mental health care. Public service has been my life’s calling, and I’m eager to work arm-in-arm with Secretary Becerra and the Biden Administration to build back better than before.” Palm had served in the Obama Administration and before that worked in Congress for, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Congressman Bob Matsui (D-CA).
At the same time, a vote on Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) has continued to move forward at a much slower pace. Her nomination required a discharge after the Senate Finance Committee split on approval. Under the 50-50 Senate rules, a tie committee vote can still move with a full Senate discharge. Brooks-LaSure approval has been stalled by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) because the Administration has pulled back on a Medicaid waiver approved under Donald Trump.
Nonetheless, the Senate did discharge her nomination by a vote of 51 to 48. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) were the only two yes Republican votes, with almost all Democrats voting to release her from the Finance Committee. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) did not vote. It is expected that the vote to confirm her nomination will come this week. Under previous Senate rules changes, nominations are not filibustered.