GRIM REAPER: Kathleen Sebelius, Welcome to an Unwelcome Washington Tradition, The DEATHWATCH

Published on October 31, 2013

It’s Kathleen Sebelius’s turn now. On the Hill, they’re calling for her resignation and tossing around words like “subpoena.” Pundits are merrily debating her future. (She’s toast! Or is Obama too loyal to fire her so soon?) Her interviews, more closely parsed than usual, seem wobbly. Though never a colorful presence on the political scene, she’s suddenly a late-night TV punch line.

And on Wednesday morning, the embattled secretary of health and human services will submit to a quintessential station of the Washington deathwatch — testifying before a congressional committee — to discuss her agency’s failings in the botched rollout of the federal health-insurance Web site.

We’ve seen it so many times before. But how does it feel?

“I just kept sliding down, sliding down, and now I’m out of a job,” former agriculture secretary Mike Espy told The Washington Post in an agonized interview just days after his 1994 resignation.

It was a rare glimpse into the real-time emotions of a top-level appointee at his hour of doom — a process so bruising that many seem reluctant to discuss it years later, even after they’ve moved on to successful second acts or quiet retirements. Many of The Post’s calls went unreturned; interviews that were promised failed to materialize.

One former high-level appointee who ran the gantlet several years ago — and spoke hesitantly, on the condition he not be named — recalled speaking at a press event unrelated to the controversy of the moment: “We were there to talk about the good work [we] were doing. All the questions we got from the media were about the investigations.”

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