Tom Price the most divisive health secretary in at least 40 years
WASHINGTON — Georgia Congressman Tom Price is now officially secretary of health and human services after the Senate’s alarm-busting 2:12 a.m. confirmation vote. Like many of the new members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, the Roswell Republican was approved by a historically narrow margin for the U.S. Senate.
Not a single Senate Democrat crossed the aisle to support the former orthopedic surgeon. The final tally was 52-47, with every single Republican voting in favor. (The missing vote was Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill.)
Per the Senate historian’s office, that officially makes Price the most divisive health secretary in at least 40 years.
Here’s a look at how past health and human services picks fared on the Senate floor and how long it took lawmakers to confirm them after formally receiving their nomination papers:
President Jimmy Carter (source)
Joseph Califano, Jr.: confirmed 95-1; four days from Senate receipt to approval
Patricia Harris: confirmed by voice vote; seven days from Senate receipt to approval
President Ronald Reagan (source)
Richard Schweiker: confirmed 99-0; one day from Senate receipt to approval
Margaret Heckler: confirmed 82-3; nine days from Senate receipt to approval
Otis Bowen: confirmed 93-2; eight days from Senate receipt to approval
President George H.W. Bush (source)
Louis Sullivan: confirmed 98-1; 40 days from Senate receipt to approval
President Bill Clinton (source)
Donna Shalala: confirmed by unanimous consent; one day from Senate receipt to approval
President George W. Bush (source)
Tommy Thompson: confirmed 100-0; four days from Senate receipt to approval
Michael Leavitt: confirmed by voice vote; 22 days from Senate receipt to approval
President Barack Obama (source)
Kathleen Sebelius: confirmed 65-31; 42 days from Senate receipt to approval
Sylvia Mathews Burwell: confirmed 78-17; 55 days from Senate receipt to approval
Boiling it all down, the Senate’s vote on Price ended up being a historically partisan one, but in terms of delays it doesn’t come close to being the longest.
The 21 days from when the Senate formally received the paperwork nominating Price on Trump’s inauguration day to today’s confirmation vote is less than half as long as predecessor Sylvia Mathews Burwell had to wait to win her green light. On the other hand, Price’s delay was substantial compared to the quick action that most health nominees of first-term presidents once received.
Times have of course changed since the days of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. The Senate is substantially more polarized, especially when it comes to Trump, and Democrats have forced historic delays when looking across his entire Cabinet.
Democrats’ rejection of Price is based not on his personality or qualifications, they have argued, but his views on health care, a subject area that’s become substantially more partisan in the years since Obamacare was passed.
The goalposts have also moved. It only takes 51 votes to confirm Cabinet secretaries these days instead of 60. But Democrats’ move to lower that threshold back in 2013 helped contribute to some of the partisanship that’s brought Senate consideration of White House nominees to a snail’s pace.
Read more: Tom Price sworn in as health chief shortly after Senate confirmation