By Dana Bash and Ted Barrett
Senate Democrats are upbeat about the prospects for confirming Sylvia Mathews Burwell as the next Health and Human Services secretary, several Democratic aides told CNN on Friday.
While they recognize Republicans will use the confirmation process to highlight problems about the Obamacare rollout, Democrats believe they can close the chapter on the troubled tenure of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and open a new one with Burwell.
They consider Burwell to be a stellar nominee who was fully vetted when she was picked for her current job heading the Office of Management and Budget. They praise her performance at her last confirmation hearing and are buoyed that she sailed through the Senate 96-0.
They point to a tweet from Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, a frequent critic of the Obama administration, in which he called Burwell an "excellent choice."
In addition, Democrats know Republicans are virtually powerless to block Burwell if they wanted to because new filibuster rules allow Democrats to confirm her without any GOP votes.
Democrats also believe that because the White House reached its goal of 7 million-plus people signing up for health insurance, they will be better armed to counter GOP criticism of the law. The believe Republicans are vulnerable for not having viable alternatives to the law that they want to scrap.
Sebelius's departure provides some relief to Democrats concerned she stayed in office too long, giving the appearance no one was held accountable for the roll out problems. While Democrats don't relish rekindling the Obamacare debate during this election year, they believe Burwell could be confirmed by Memorial Day, allowing Democrats enough time before the election to return to their campaign themes focusing on middle class economic issues.
Senate Republicans are anxious to press Burwell on how she will address the problems they see with the law.
"You can expect a robust discussion, both at the hearing and on the floor, on Obamacare and its consequences," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"This is an opportunity to start a candid conversation about the shortcomings in the health law," said another GOP aide.
Republican aides were reluctant to predict if any GOP senators would vote against Burwell. Most senators had left Washington before Burwell was nominated Friday.
The Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction over the confirmation process although the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will also call Burwell to testify. Decisions have not been made on when the hearings will take place, aides from both committees said.
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