WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opposed the nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to head the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday, saying she appears to be qualified but that he opposes the Affordable Care Act that she would have to administer.
"By most accounts, Sylvia Burwell is a smart and skilled public servant," McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor of the current head of President Barack Obama's Office of Management and Budget.
It was an assessment that he shared in the past, when he and 95 other senators voted to confirm her for the OMB post.
However, the fact that Burwell was willing to take on the daunting job of running the HHS and Obamacare apparently has changed McConnell's opinion.
"Her embrace of Obamacare calls her policy judgment into question," McConnell explained. "And when it comes to the task of implementing this ill-conceived and disastrous law, the president may as well have nominated Sisyphus, because as I indicated, Ms. Burwell has been asked to do the impossible here."
The move harks back to the days before Senate Democrats used the "nuclear option" to change Senate rules and stop filibusters of qualified nominees. That allowed them to approve, for instance, Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The GOP had blocked him because they opposed the agency, not Cordray.
McConnell's opposition Thursday cannot stop Burwell's confirmation, but it does allow him to make a political point while he's facing a tough reelection campaign in which he has repeatedly used Obamacare as a talking point. He has argued over and over again that the law is a disaster that is hurting people, although he recently suggested Kentucky could keep its Obamacare program -- Kynect -- even if he succeeded in ending Obamacare.
"In my view, the Senate shouldn't be focusing on a new captain for the Titanic. It should focus on steering away from the iceberg," said McConnell, suggesting he won't support anyone to head the nation's health programs unless Obamacare is repealed.
"Her embrace of this disastrous law is reason enough to oppose her confirmation," McConnell said. "So I'll be voting against this nominee because I think we need to focus on repealing and replacing this law, not trying to do the impossible by pretending we can make it work."
Shortly after McConnell spoke, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also took to the floor to excoriate Obamacare problems. He said he would support Burwell, explaining "hopefully she can correct them."
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.