WASHINGTON — Wisconsin’s Andrea Palm moved a step closer Thursday to becoming deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, after the Senate Finance Committee advanced her nomination to the full chamber.
The panel approved Palm’s nomination on a 20-8 vote, with all Democrats and six Republicans in support.
Palm’s nomination now awaits a floor vote in the Senate.
Palm most recently served as Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services secretary-designee, where Republican state lawmakers refused to confirm her and challenged her efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, the Wisconsin Examiner has reported. People who worked alongside her described Palm’s agenda during her prior stint in Washington in the Obama administration as one where she eschewed partisanship, seeking a common-ground agenda. Gov. Tony Evers praised her work during the pandemic as she departed Wisconsin, saying, “Andrea Palm is a public servant through and through … and a consummate professional who has done an extraordinary job helping lead our state during an unprecedented public health crisis. I know she will continue to serve our country just as she has our state — with empathy, kindness and tenacity.”
The GOP-controlled state Legislature accused Palm and Evers of overreaching by making multiple public health declarations and mask mandates. Republican lawmakers also took Palm to court to overturn those public health orders.
And U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Wis.) who led the state Senate until he was elected to Congress in 2020 took yet another shot at her on Thursday. Fitzgerald reiterated his objections to Palm again on Vicki McKenna’s right-wing radio show, also complaining that she didn’t work with the Legislature, although the Senate had already refused to confirm her for more than a year before COVID-19 hit.
“She never consulted — NEVER consulted with the Legislature along the way,” said Fitzgerald. “I don’t know if it was under … the governor’s guidance not to work with us. We’re not sure. But I just wanted people out here to know this stuff. They’re senators and they are gonna make their own decisions. I just didn’t want it to slide through without shedding some light on it.” He also posted to Twitter:
I joined @VickiMcKenna to discuss Andrea Palm’s disastrous record in WI as head of Health Services—so disastrous, even the WI Supreme Court ruled twice that her orders were unlawful. If you look at Palm’s record, I don’t know how you can vote for her nomination to HHS Deputy Sec. pic.twitter.com/ZhdCMad7eU
— Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (@RepFitzgerald) April 22, 2021
Prior to her work in Wisconsin, Palm held a number of roles at HHS during the Obama administration, including as acting assistant secretary for legislation, chief of staff and senior counselor to the secretary. She worked on the Affordable Care Act and was involved in the agency’s fight against the opioid crisis.
She spent her 20s as a caseworker, finding safe homes for children and working with people in behavioral health crises. During her Senate hearing, Palm said that work drew her to public service and “made me want to change the system.”
Born and raised in rural upstate New York, Palm has a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis.
In contrast to the majority support for Palm, the Finance Committee deadlocked on the nomination of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, due to Republican opposition to a recent decision by the Biden administration to revoke support for changes to Texas’ Medicaid program. The nomination of Brooks-LaSure will require a discharge vote by the full Senate before it can advance.
That Medicaid waiver had been approved by the Trump administration, and revoking the 10-year extension jeopardizes $11 billion in annual federal funding for Texas.
HHS officials stated in a letter to Texas officials that the decision was made because the approval didn’t go through the full administrative process. But Sen. John Cornyn, (R-Texas), citing a Washington Post report, said the decision was part of a broader effort to push Texas and 11 other states to expand Medicaid and cover more low-income residents as allowed under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
States that have not yet adopted expansion include Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas and Wisconsin.
“It’s pretty bold to admit this is not about an administrative error at all — it’s about jamming the state into a decision that the elected officials there have chosen not to make,” Cornyn said, describing it as “a high-stakes game of chicken” that “erodes the partnership between the state and CMS.”
Cornyn added that he had been planning to vote for Brooks-LaSure before the Medicaid waiver was rescinded, but could not support her until it is resolved.
Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), told Cornyn that while the committee was still seeking to advance Brooks-LaSure’s nomination, he pledged to work with Cornyn on the matter and said the Biden administration is taking the issue seriously.