America’s next top doctor: Vivek Murthy – USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Monday approved Vivek Murthy to serve as U.S. surgeon general despite opposition from Republicans and the gun rights lobby for his political advocacy work and statements calling guns a public health concern.
The near party-line vote, 51-43, secured a four-year term for President Obama’s nominee. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., joined Democrats in support. His nomination had been pending for more than a year.
Obama made no reference to gun policies or Murthy’s politics in a statement on the confirmation vote. Obama said his priorities would range from “stopping new diseases to helping our kids group up healthy and strong.” He will also work on the effort to combat the spread of Ebola.
In a Senate floor speech earlier Monday, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., an orthopedic surgeon, questioned the breadth of Murthy’s medical experience because he completed his medical residency in 2006. “The majority of his career has been spent not as a doctor treating patients but as an activist, an activist focused on gun control and political campaigns,” he said.
Murthy, 37, is a British-born Indian-American who was educated at Harvard and Yale and has both medical and business degrees. He completed his residency in 2006 at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he is an attending physician.
The White House announced in November 2013 that President Obama would nominate him for surgeon general. He will be the first Indian-American to serve in the role.
Murthy has been endorsed by more than 100 health organizations, including the American College of Physicians, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.
However, Murthy’s political advocacy for Obama and past statements on gun control slowed his nomination. In 2008, he co-founded Doctors for Obama, a group of doctors and medical students who supported Obama’s campaign. The group has transitioned to Doctors for America after Obama won. The group supported the Affordable Care Act. Today it boasts 16,000 members in all 50 states.
Murthy has drawn opposition from the National Rifle Association for his support of stricter gun laws, including an assault weapons ban, and a number of his past public statements asserting guns are a public health issue. “America’s next surgeon general should not be a political operative whose professional inexperience has been a source of bipartisan concern,” said Andrew Arulanandam of the NRA.
The NRA announced it would “score” the vote as part of the system they use to rate lawmakers in political campaigns.
For example, in December 2012 Murthy tweeted: “NRA press conference disappointing but predictable — blame everything in the world except guns for the Newtown tragedy. #wakeup.”
It is the only congressional vote in this Congress to overcome NRA opposition. Dan Gross, president of the the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, called the bill a “huge victory” for gun control advocates. “Now we have a Surgeon General who recognizes that gun violence is a serious public health issue that America urgently needs to address,” he said.
“Today’s vote should send a clear message to all members of Congress that it is possible to take on the NRA and win,” added Becky Bond, political director at CREDO, a progressive activist group.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Murthy has made clear he is not “aspiring to be the leading doctor in America to engage in a political debate.”
Not all Democrats were convinced. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced his opposition Monday, citing that activism. “After meeting with Dr. Murthy, I don’t question his medical qualifications. I just question whether the public will believe that he can separate his political beliefs from his public health views,” he said.
Democrats delayed a vote on Murthy’s nomination before Election Day in part because many of the party’s senators up for re-election were running in conservative states where the NRA holds considerable political sway. But Democrats lost control of the Senate anyway, paving the way for a nomination vote in a lame-duck session before Republicans take over in January.
Murthy is the latest in a string of executive nominations that were only able to pass the Senate after Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pushed through a rules change last year to lower the threshold from 60 to 51 votes to advance certain presidential nominations. Republicans have not said whether they will keep the rules change in place in the next Congress.
Murthy replaces acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, who has been serving since Regina Benjamin resigned in July 2013. The surgeon general is the nation’s top spokesperson on all matters of public health and oversees the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and its 6,700 members.