According to a source familiar with discussions within the White House about filling the Health and Human Services slot, Kathleen Sebelius very much wants the position and Obama would very much like to have her — he feels she is the most qualified person for the job and an excellent administrator. However, there are concerns that there will be a backlash by the anti-abortion community if she is nominated, and that’s not a battle the White House wants to have right now.
Their concerns center around Sebelius’s struggle with Kansas District Attorney Phill Kline. When her name was first floated as a potential VP pick last May, Robert Novak ran a column (picked up by Chris Cillizza, among others) that accused her of "what pro-life advocates term ‘laundering’ abortion industry money for distribution to Kansas Democrats." At the time, as Cillizza notes, Sebelius was "sitting in the top slot on the Fix’s Veepstakes Line." The Novak article may have played a big part in moving her down the list.
Abortion rates went down 8 1/2% during Sebelius’s term as governor, but that is small beer next to the pro-life media circus surrounding former Kansas Attorney General Kline, who many will recall abused his position to subpoena 90 patient medical records from abortion clinics (which he claimed were necessary to fight "child-rape"). They were subsequently leaked to Bill O’Reilly in time for Kline’s appearance on the show. Kline had a vendetta against Dr. George Tiller, one of the few remaining doctors in Kansas would still perform abortions, and appointed a special prosecutor with ties to Operation Rescue to investigate him. The Sedgwick County District Attorney subsequently threw the charges out, but to pro-life zealots for who regard the story as their own Brangelina, this was the sign of a vast conspiracy and Kline became a hero.
Kline was challenged for the Attorney General spot in 2006 by Paul Morrison. Sebelius helped recruit Morrison from the GOP to run against Kline, and Morrison received financial support from Tiller’s PAC, which according to Novak and the forced birthers is sign of a — you guessed it, grand conspiracy. The fact that even the Kansas GOP wants little to do with Kline doesn’t really enter into the narrative — after his defeat by Morrison he went on to replace Morrison as district attorney in Johnson County, taking the Planned Parenthood patient records with him. But he was defeated by another Republican, Steve Howe, who got 60% of the vote in a primary in January 2008.
Late last year, Planned Parenthood was successful in their suit and the Kansas Supreme Court forced Kline to return the patient medical records to them. As Feministing noted, "It’s about time. After a four-year anti-choice crusade against women’s health clinics in Kansas, former Attorney General Phill Kline was slammed by the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday for his baseless attempts to criminalize Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri." Kline had claimed that as a result of the seized records a rapist was caught, but Sedgwick County District Attorney said this was pure fantasy. "Kline had absolutely nothing to do with our case — nothing, zero," she said.
Kline is a cheap hustler and a publicity hound so it’s understandable that the forced birth crowd would revere him as a martyr. But it’s hard to believe that a man like this could keep a supremely qualified candidate like Kathleen Sebelius out of Health and Human Services.