Empower Wisconsin | May 20, 2020
By M.D. Kittle and Joshua Waldoch
MADISON — At least five Republican senators want to send Gov. Tony Evers’ Department of Health Services-designee Andrea Palm packing, as discontent continues to grow among conservatives about the former Obama administration official’s handling of the COVID-19 response.
Empower Wisconsin sought comment from all 18 Republican state senators. Sens. Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon), Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), and Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) are calling for a Senate confirmation hearing on Palm’s nomination. They all say they would vote against her confirmation.
“She’s exceeded her authority, and broken the law,” Kapenga said. “We’ve removed people for less.”
Craig has been on record saying Palm has shown “incredibly poor judgment in dealing with COVID-19.”
“Her pervasive disregard for the law, the constitutional rights of citizens and the very data and ‘science’ she claims to follow is clear justification for her immediate removal,” the senator said in a statement last month. Craig announced on Tuesday that he would not seek another term.
“As he’s told our leadership and said publicly last year, Sen. Nass opposed her pre-COVID-19,” said Nass spokesman Mike Mikalsen. His position hasn’t changed. Palm, he said, has shown no remorse for her “illegal actions” in trying to “ram through” emergency rules that were the same as the stay-at-home orders. “Steve believes that any day the Senate comes back to floor this session her nomination should be on the agenda and voted down.”
The Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee approved Palm’s nomination last year on a 4-1 vote. Jacque cast the lone “no” vote, citing concerns about Palm’s deputy Nicole Safar, former vice president of public Affairs for Planned Parenthood. His position has not changed, particularly after watching Palm’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. Sens. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and Pat Testin (R-Stevens Point) did vote to confirm her in the Health Committee vote.
Stroebel, who has been a vocal critic of Palm and the DHS during the pandemic, told Empower Wisconsin he is open to a vote, and he would vote against the secretary-designee’s confirmation.
Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua), who resigned from the Senate this week to take the 7th Congressional District seat he won earlier this month, also has called for Palm’s ouster.
“Ms. Palm came here as Governor Evers’ hired gun, and she will leave with Wisconsin’s corpse if she continues,” Tiffany recently said in a statement.
Before being tapped as Evers health chief, Palm served as senior counselor to the secretary of Health and Human Services under former President Barack Obama. She has held leadership positions with Hillary Clinton, when Clinton was a U.S. senator from New York, and other liberal politicians and organizations.
Republicans hold an 18-13 majority. It had been 19-14 before Tiffany’s departure and Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling’s (D-La Crosse) sudden resignation.
Many senators did not return Empower Wisconsin’s request for comments.
Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) doesn’t believe it’s an appropriate time to hold a confirmation hearing, said the senator’s chief of staff, Scott Kelly.
Senate President Roger Roth (R-Appleton) said he does have serious concerns about Palm’s leadership, but many Republican caucus members have “agreed it would be best for there to be stability with the position.” He noted Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has made it clear that Palm would not be removed from her position during the crisis.
Post-pandemic, however, Roth said he thinks it would be best to re-refer her confirmation appointment back to the Senate Health Committee for another public hearing.
“We have seen how DHS operates, sometimes unlawfully, so it is prudent for Senators and the public to be allowed an opportunity to weigh in again after seeing how this pandemic was handled in Wisconsin,” he said.