Two former GOP state senators now serving in Congress are opposing President Joe Biden’s appointment of former Wisconsin health secretary Andrea Palm, who led the state’s COVID-19 response in the first 10 months of the pandemic.
U.S. Reps. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, sent a letter Thursday to the Senate Finance Committee asking members to reject Biden’s nomination of Palm to deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — making her Biden’s No. 2 health official.
The GOP lawmakers, both of whom were elected to Congress last year, cited Palm’s role as Wisconsin Department of Health Services secretary as their reason for opposing her nomination. Palm left her Wisconsin post in January. She previously served 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.
In the letter, both Republicans cited criticism lobbed at Palm by state GOP lawmakers in the last year, including the stay-at-home order implemented last spring that the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down in May. Republicans also targeted the state’s vaccine deployment under Palm’s leadership.
“As former state lawmakers who served during Ms. Palm’s tenure (with DHS), we can tell you that her record in our state was one characterized by incompetence and overreach — particularly as it relates to the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
The Republicans also pointed to Palm’s implementation of statewide restrictions on the size of public gatherings last year — limits that were put on hold by an appeals court.
Wisconsin’s ongoing efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 has been shaped by partisan battles over the appropriate response. On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers latest emergency order and accompanying face mask mandate, leaving mitigation efforts to local officials.
Palm’s nomination to head the state DHS also faced headwinds in Wisconsin. Her appointment received committee approval in August 2019, but Senate Republicans never formally voted on the matter. Both Fitzgerald and Tiffany were vocal critics of Palm’s appointment.
Democratic lawmakers, including Evers, have pointed to limited vaccine supplies and a lack of specific allocation information under former President Donald Trump’s administration as a major factor to the state’s slow vaccine rollout in the early months of vaccination efforts. State health officials have said Wisconsin’s slow-and-steady approach to building a network of vaccinators has played a major role in the state’s recent success in vaccinations.
Just Monday, Evers announced that more than 1 million Wisconsin residents had completed their COVID-19 vaccine trials and the state ranks near the top in the nation with regard to vaccinations. Starting next week, vaccine eligibility expands to all Wisconsin residents age 16 and older.
In announcing Palm’s appointment in January, Evers described her as “a critical part of our administration and a consummate professional who has done an extraordinary job helping lead our state during an unprecedented public health crisis.”
“I know she will continue to serve our country just as she has our state — with empathy, kindness and tenacity,” Evers said.
Palm’s nomination was received by the Senate in February and has been referred to the Committee on Finance.
'Every aspect of our lives has been turned on its head': The COVID-19 pandemic one year on
A year into a once-in-a-century pandemic, Madison and Wisconsin continue to grapple with a virus that's killed thousands, destroyed businesses, upended school and changed nearly all aspects of everyday life.
It's been 12 months of grief, shutdowns, reopenings, protective measures, partisan fighting, lawsuits and loss. And now, hope.
“Truly every aspect of our lives has been turned on its head,” said Malia Jones, a UW-Madison infectious disease epidemiologist.
"If you would have told me last March that we'd be virtual for a year, I'd never, ever would have believed it."
"We’re used to taking whatever comes through the door," said nurse Maria Hanson, who started journaling about the pandemic soon after treating the patient.
"It’s a risk vs. reward thing and I risk my life to save others," said Brandon Jones, who always worried about bringing the virus home to his wife and two kids.
“Usually a funeral is a major step in understanding that a life was lived and the person is now gone,” he said. “If families don’t get that, it’s just really hard.”
Rev. Marcus Allen knew what bringing everyone together could do for their spiritual and mental health. But each time he considered reopening the church, COVID-19 cases surged.
"I was getting my work done from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. every day," she said.
“Reporting the death counts out day after day was draining,” she said. “It felt like I was announcing a funeral every day.”
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