WASHINGTON (AP) - Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius won a divided Senate panel's approval Tuesday to be confirmed as secretary of health and human services in the Obama administration.
The Finance Committee voted 15 to 8 to send the Sebelius nomination to the full Senate for a final vote. The committee vote came after several Republicans voiced concerns about Sebelius' ties to a late-term abortion doctor in her home state.
The GOP also questioned her commitment to ensuring that the government doesn't try to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. Sebelius was Obama's second choice for health secretary after his first pick - former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle - withdrew over unpaid taxes.
The Republican defections could put make it more difficult for Sebelius to shepherd President Barack Obama's ambitious plans to overhaul the nation's health care system. Some GOP senators expressed concerns about Sebelius' inaccurate response to the Finance Committee about how much campaign money she got from Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita abortion doctor who is under investigation by Kansas' medical board over late-term procedures he performed.
Sebelius told the committee in written responses after her confirmation hearing this month that Tiller had given her $12,450 between 1994 and 2001. She was forced to revise that response after an Associated Press review showed that Tiller and his abortion clinic donated an additional $23,000 between 2000 and 2002 to a political action committee Sebelius established to raise money for fellow Democrats.
Sebelius apologized and called it an oversight. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the committee, said in an interview last week that he found the revelations troubling.
"I don't think we'll ever get a pro-life person appointed to that position with this president, but we want to make sure we don't get somebody that has got radical views on abortion," he said. Another committee Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, said Monday that Sebelius initially "seemed to be a qualified candidate for the job."
"However, after learning about her inexplicable omission of donations from the late-term abortion doctor George Tiller, I have to reevaluate my support for her nomination," Hatch said in a statement. "I regard human life to be sacred, and it troubles me to have someone with an apparent cavalier attitude toward life - as well as a lack of candor on this important issue - head our nation's health services."
The White House stuck by Sebelius.
"We regret that there was an oversight in the initial answer that was provided to the committee," said White House spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield. "This inadvertent oversight was corrected quickly. Gov. Sebelius has enjoyed bipartisan support throughout the nomination process."
Sebelius, 60, is a popular two-term Democratic governor in a Republican-leaning state. Sebelius had tax problems as well. Prior to her confirmation hearing she corrected three years' worth of tax returns and paid more than $7,000 in back taxes to fix improper deductions.