Gov. Tony Evers’ pick to lead the Department of Health Services received approval from a key Senate committee Wednesday, moving her confirmation to the full chamber.
The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services approved 4-1 recommending the confirmation of Andrea Palm to lead the department tasked with overseeing Medicaid, the single largest state program.
The move sends her confirmation to the full Senate, which could vote to confirm her as early as October, reducing uncertainty surrounding her staying power in the post.
Palm is originally from New York and served most recently as senior counselor to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under former President Barack Obama from 2014 to 2017.
Sen. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, a social conservative and anti-abortion advocate, provided the lone “no” vote over concerns with Palm’s deputy secretary, Nicole Safar, who previously served as vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood.
Jacque said Safar’s appointment creates a conflict of interest for the Department of Health Services because Planned Parenthood earlier this year sued the state over laws making it more difficult for women to get abortions.
Jacque previously said having Safar in the post could undermine the state’s legal defense. At her hearing earlier this year, Palm said Safar would not have any involvement in lawsuits challenging the state’s abortion laws.
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The other Republicans on the committee, Sens. Dale Kooyenga, of Brookfield, and Patrick Testin, of Stevens Point, voted to confirm Palm. They underscored they are opponents of abortion, but that Safar’s affiliation with Planned Parenthood matters little given DHS rarely deals with abortion issues and is largely a nonpartisan agency. They said Palm is well qualified to lead the department.
“While we may not agree on all the issues, when you take a look at her resume there is no doubt that she is qualified for this position,” Testin said.
He dismissed Jacque’s concerns over Palm, arguing that removing her would not guarantee the removal of her deputy secretary.
Senate confirmation is usually a formality because cabinet secretaries can serve in their posts without confirmation. Lawmakers, however, can use confirmation as a political weapon by threatening to oust cabinet members or delay confirmation over grievances with the administration.
Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, one of the Senate’s fiscal hawks, called on a Senate committee to vote down or delay Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson’s confirmation over concerns about his fiscal management.
The committee ignored the call and voted to recommend Thompson’s confirmation to the Senate, although the full chamber could still oust him.
Thompson’s confirmation was advanced earlier this month, along with that of Veterans Affairs Secretary Mary Kolar. Administration Secretary Joel Brennan and Revenue Secretary Peter Barca received committee nods in February and March.