The PJ Tatler

'Despite NRA's Negative Onslaught,' Controversial Surgeon General Pick Squeaks Through Confirmation Vote

Dr. Vivek Murthy, a Harvard Medical School instructor who founded Doctors for Obama (which changed its name to Doctors for America), was nominated by President Obama to be surgeon general in November 2013.

The 37-year-old’s nomination stalled amid opposition in the upper chamber, yet was one of the flurry of nominees whose cloture votes were pushed through in the extended weekend Senate session. Today, Murthy was barely confirmed 51-43, with six senators not voting.

The only Republican to vote for Murthy’s confirmation was Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). Among the nays were Democrats Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.).

“Our surgeon general serves as America’s leader on public health services and chooses what health policies we should prioritize. For that reason, I don’t believe it’s appropriate for America’s number one doctor to participate in political activism,” Manchin said. “It is essential that the surgeon general gains the public’s trust, so this position must be separated from the political arena.”

“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 added. “I am wary that his past comments and political involvement will have an impact on his leadership capabilities and effectiveness. For these reasons, I am unable to vote for his confirmation as the United States’ next surgeon general.”

The National Rifle Association issued a legislative alert Friday warning that the long-delayed confirmation of Murthy, who has equated gun violence with a “public health epidemic,” was imminent.

“The coordination between the Brady Campaign and those seeking to engineer Dr. Murthy’s confirmation heightens already significant concerns about his willingness to politicize the office of Surgeon General to promote gun control,” the NRA’s Chris Cox wrote to Senate leaders.

Democratic senators who have traditionally supported gun rights but were defeated in midterms — Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) — voted for Murthy. So did Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who ran unsuccessfully on a 2nd Amendment platform.

Obama issued a statement praising the confirmation of the Doctors for Obama leader. “As ‘America’s Doctor,’ Vivek will hit the ground running to make sure every American has the information they need to keep themselves and their families safe,” Obama said. “He’ll bring his lifetime of experience promoting public health to bear on priorities ranging from stopping new diseases to helping our kids grow up healthy and strong.”

“Vivek will also help us build on the progress we’ve made combatting Ebola, both in our country and at its source,” the president continued. “Combined with the crucial support for fighting Ebola included in the bill to fund our government next year, Vivek’s confirmation makes us better positioned to save lives around the world and protect the American people here at home.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who was in Hartford earlier in the day marking the two-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting, said the NRA had “spun a specious smokescreen” on Murthy’s nomination, “working shamefully and tirelessly to block him simply because he stated the obvious fact that gun violence is a public health issue.”

“Despite the NRA’s negative onslaught, today the United States gets a great surgeon general and a superbly qualified public health leader,” Blumenthal said.

But Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), one of the physicians serving in Congress, said in a floor speech today that while Murthy has “impressive academic credentials and I’m sure he will be a fine doctor,” they’re “simply not sufficient qualifications for this important job.”

“Is Dr. Murthy a renowned expert in treating patients or researching diseases? No, not at all. He’s not. Has he actually built a career teaching medicine or leading public health organizations? No, not yet. In fact, Dr. Murthy only completed his medical training, his residency, in 2006, just eight years ago,” Barrasso said. “Now, I speak as someone who has actually practiced medicine for 25 years, who has been an instructor of surgery at Yale Medical School that Dr. Murthy attended. And I saw that being a doctor is about much more than going to school.”

“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. Even former Surgeon General Richard Carmona has said that Dr. Murthy doesn’t have the medical experience to serve in such an important position. Let me point out, Dr. Carmona is a Democrat.”

Americans, Barrasso argued, “don’t want a doctor who might let political ideology get in the way of treatment and their best interest.”

“Americans don’t want a Surgeon General who might use this position of trust to promote his own personal campaign against the Second Amendment of the Constitution,” he said. “This is just another example of President Obama giving someone an important job based solely on their support of the president’s political career.”

Though Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he didn’t think Murthy would get confirmed until Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) sent the Senate into weekend session with their cromnibus objections, Lee told Fox today that wasn’t the case.

“Look, this is an outgoing Democratic Senate majority. It would’ve been political malpractice for [Reid] to adjourn for the year without getting these things through,” Lee said. “I can guarantee you not one person will be confirmed as a result of this that would not otherwise have been confirmed.”