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News Wrap: Obama taps Sylvia Burwell to lead Health and Human Services

April 11, 2014 at 9:56 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama formally nominated his choice today to be the next U.S. secretary of health and human services. And he praised the woman who’s held the job for five years, during the battle over health care reform.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Kathleen will go down in history for serving as the secretary of health and human services when the United States of America finally declared that quality, affordable health care is not a privilege, but it is a right for every single citizen of these United States of America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama and a boisterous crowd joined in giving Kathleen Sebelius a Rose Garden send-off and defending his Affordable Care Act.

Sebelius was a popular former governor of Kansas when she came to HHS in 2009. But she took heavy criticism over the calamitous launch of the government Web site for health insurance enrollment, leading to multiple mea culpas to Congress.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, Secretary of Health and Human Services: I am as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch of healthcare.gov, so let me say directly to these Americans, you deserve better. I apologize.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, her tenure ended on a high note, as she announced yesterday that at least 7.5 million Americans have now enrolled in the insurance exchanges.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: She’s got bumps. I have got bumps, bruises. But under Kathleen’s leadership, her team at HHS turned the corner, got it fixed, got the job done, and the final score speaks for itself.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sebelius herself suggested the opportunity to implement national health reform has been worth it.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: This is the most meaningful work I have ever been a part of. In fact, it’s been the cause of my life. And I knew it wouldn’t be easy. There is a reason that no earlier president was successful in passing health reform, despite decades of attempts.

SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL, Director, White House Office of Management and Budget: I also want to personally thank her for her support.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To replace Sebelius, the president tapped Sylvia Mathews Burwell, head of the Office of Management and Budget. The Senate unanimously confirmed her for that job last year, but Republican opposition to the health care law could mean a tougher time this go-round.

The White House today confirmed that Iran’s new ambassador to the United Nations in New York will not be allowed to enter the United States. A spokesman said the envoy was refused a visa because he was involved in seizing the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Denying visas to U.N. diplomats is rare, and Iran said the decision was regrettable.

Australia’s prime minister has raised new hopes that search teams are closer to finding what remains of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Visiting China, Tony Abbott said the signals detected underwater are helping make their search area even more targeted.

TONY ABBOTT, Prime Minister, Australia: We have very much narrowed down the search area. We’re now getting to the stage where the signal from what we are very confident is the black boxes is starting to fade, and we are hoping to get as much information as we can before the signal finally expires.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Air crews dropped more sonar buoys today, but didn’t pick up any new pings. Planes also kept up the visual search for debris on the surface of the Indian Ocean.

Investigators in Northern California are searching for answers after a fiery truck-bus collision killed 10 people yesterday. Many were high school students on a trip to visit a college. Explosions could be seen from miles away after a truck veered across a median and slammed into the bus. Survivors escaped by breaking through windows. Some were in critical condition today.

Protesters in Eastern Ukraine held out in two cities today, as a deadline for surrender came and went without police action. The pro-Russian separatists have occupied government office buildings in Luhansk and Donetsk. They’re flying Russian flags and calling for a referendum like Crimea’s.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk visited Donetsk today and said he’s open to political changes.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Acting Prime Minister, Ukraine (through interpreter): The main goal is to satisfy people who want to see more power given to regions. This can be implemented within the framework of constitutional reforms by abolishing local administration and structures, and passing all powers to executive committees, which will be elected by the local population.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yatsenyuk also warned the protesters they may yet be forced out if they refuse to give up.

Pope Francis took personal responsibility today for Catholic priests who sexually molested children, and he begged forgiveness. It was the first such statement by any pontiff over the abuse scandal that now spans two decades.

The pope spoke in Vatican City to a French Catholic network of organizations that protect children’s rights.

POPE FRANCIS, Leader of Catholic Church (through interpreter): I feel compelled to take upon myself all the evil that some priests, quite a few in number, but obviously not so many in relation to the total number of priests, to take upon myself all the evil, and to ask forgiveness for the damage they inflicted for the sexual abuse of children.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last month, the pope named some of the first members to a high-level commission on preventing sexual abuse in the church.

First lady Michelle Obama and the vice president’s wife, Jill Biden, pledged new help today for some 5.5 million Americans who are caring for wounded troops and veterans. Former first lady Rosalynn Carter and former senator Elizabeth Dole joined in announcing a series of initiatives. They include expanded counseling, job training and financial assistance.

President and Mrs. Obama have released their income tax returns for 2013. They paid just over $98,000 in federal taxes on income of about $480,000. That’s an effective tax rate of just over 20 percent. They donated nearly $60,000 to charity.