Senate Confirms Controversial Surgeon General Nominee Vivek Murthy

Capitol Daytime

After nearly a year during which his nomination was blocked by Republicans working together with the National Rifle Association, President Obama’s choice for Surgeon General has been confirmed:

President Obama’s pick to serve as the next surgeon general was confirmed Monday evening more than a year and half after being nominated, the first of nearly a half dozen of the president’s picks set for confirmation this week as Democrats prepare to cede control of the U.S. Senate.

Senators voted 51 to 43 to confirm Vivek Murthy, a Harvard and Yale-educated doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, whose nomination had been in limbo amid concerns about his experience, and opposition from the gun lobby.

As surgeon general, Murthy, 37, will serve as the nation’s top spokesperson on public health issues. Boris Lushniak has served as acting surgeon general since July 2013.

Senators in both parties had questioned whether he was too inexperienced for the job, or whether his efforts to get Obama elected and support the president’s health-care law made him too polarizing a figure.

But by far the most vehement opposition to Murthy’s confirmation came from the National Rifle Association, which called him a “serious threat to the rights of gun owners” because of his support of tighter gun control laws. That animosity in part dates to a tweet Murthy sent out in 2012: “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”

Earlier this year in a hearing on Capitol Hill, Murthy said if confirmed, he would focus on public health topics of broad agreement such as the need to fight the country’s obesity epidemic. “I do not intend to use the surgeon general’s office as a bully pulpit for gun control,” he said at the time.

Murthy has received public support from scores of medical and public health organizations, as well as from former Surgeon General David Satcher.

But his comments prompted opposition from moderate Democrats from states with strong gun cultures, briefly raising the specter of a rare defeat for an Obama nominee.

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.), who voted against Murthy, said in a statement Monday that the 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.”

And Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), an orthopedic surgeon, credited Murthy’s academic credentials but said he is still unqualified for the position.

“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,” he said in a floor speech on Monday.

Obama said in a statement that Murthy will bring “his lifetime of experience promoting public health” to the role and help guide the U.S. response to the Ebola crisis. “Vivek’s confirmation makes us better positioned to save lives around the world and protect the American people here at home,” he said.

Murthy was the first of 23 nominees expected to be confirmed this week, as Democrats get ready to hand Senate control over to Republicans next year. Democrats secured an agreement from Republicans on those confirmations when senators met during a marathon session prompted over disagreements over how to approve a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending bill.

In addition to Murthy, the final batch of nominees included 11 picks for Executive Branch posts and 12 nominees for lifetime appointments to federal district courts in eight states and the District of Columbia.

The Murthy nomination was controversial, but as I’ve said before I tend to think that the President should be entitled to the nominees that he chooses unless there is some objective reason to disqualify the person in question, at least when it comes to Cabinet appointments and other similar provisions that essentially serve “at the pleasure of the President.” In Dr. Murthy’s case, the vehemence of the opposition from the National Rifle Association seemed odd to say that least, and hardly a ground to disqualify him.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Quick Takes, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    He was only controversial if you are in the pocket of the NRA.
    There is nothing controversial about this; facts are not controversial:

    “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”

  2. Hal_10000 says:

    My problem with Murthy wasn’t his position on guns, necessarily. It’s that his main qualification for the job was creating “Doctors for Obama”. The acting surgeon general was more qualified for the position.

    In the end, the position is largely meaningless and I don’t support the filibustering of nominees. But I would have voted against him.

  3. Tyrell says:

    Surgeon General C. Everett Coop set a standard for the Surgeon General position: high integrity, resist political pressure. Dr. Koop literally wrote the book on pediatric surgery. Surgeon-General Koop presented an imposing figure. Many thought that he probably had been a ship captain or naval admiral.
    Surgeon-General Koop never tried to overemphasize himself.

  4. Rick DeMent says:

    @Tyrell:

    Surgeon-General Koop never tried to overemphasize himself.

    So the nominee should be dismissed simply over his style? Do you people ever listen to yourself? Do you have any idea how many GOP nominees for various positions could be dismissed over “style”. You need to think of this in the context of is the nominees “style” now a serious reason to dismiss them and if we have this ever expanding list of reasons to dismiss nominees then there will com a time when no president can ever assemble a cabinet.

    John Ashcroft was a blithing idiot who spent his time taking down pornographers rather than terrorists and anointing himself with Crisco, but I would still have let the president make that appointment. This game is silly.

  5. al-Ameda says:

    “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”

    The Murthy nomination was controversial,

    I’m still not sure exactly what is controversial about a doctor who is not enamored of gun violence.

  6. stonetools says:

    In Dr. Murthy’s case, the vehemence of the opposition from the National Rifle Association seemed odd to say that least

    Not odd in the least. Dr. Murthy’s position was that:

    1. gun violence should be considered as a public health policy issue
    2. The CDC should fund scientific study of gun violence.

    The NRA fiercely opposes both positions, since they undermine their ongoing propoganda campaign in favor of expanding gun owner rights. So the NRA opposition to Dr. Murthy was understandable. What was reprehensible was Congress’ spineless submission to the NRA .
    Dr. Murthy’s appointment is a triumph of defending science over defending ignorance and mythology. One small victory in the long war.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    @al-Ameda: Deaths from influenza in the US vary from maybe 3,000 in a good year to maybe 50,000 in a bad year. Influenza is regarded as clearly a public health issue. 30,000 a year are shot to death. I have no idea how many wounded. How is this out of bounds for discussion as a health issue??

    (Rhetorical question. Because there’s no industry association whose livelihood is threatened by flu shots.)

  8. Slugger says:

    The legislators’ opinions about the surgeon general reveal a lot about the disconnect between the people and the ones elected to represent the people. I remember when Jocelyn Elder had to resign for stating that self gratification is common among human males. This news was absolutely shocking to our representatives and caused much fainting.
    I do not wish to speculate how our betters respond to these biologic imperatives because it might endander the high regard I have for our leaders.

  9. James Pearce says:

    “But by far the most vehement opposition to Murthy’s confirmation came from the National Rifle Association, which called him a “serious threat to the rights of gun owners” because of his support of tighter gun control laws.”

    This is what happens when you believe your own BS, I guess.

    Background checks and mag limits as “a serious threat to the rights of gun owners?” (Cue someone…Jenos? JKB?….to argue that making someone submit to a background check is, indeed, a “serious threat to the rights of gun owners,” not because it is, but because if it isn’t, then the liberals will win.)

  10. Paul L. says:

    For some reason the loons at Crooks and Liars “think” Ted Cruz is to blame for the Senate Confirming Vivek Murthy As Surgeon General.

    So the NRA should now target Ted Cruz but the Democrats are blameless and the NRA should not target them.

  11. al-Ameda says:

    @Paul L.:

    So the NRA should now target Ted Cruz but the Democrats are blameless and the NRA should not target them.

    Of course the NRA should target everyone, that’s what gun-nut loons do.

  12. al-Ameda says:

    @gVOR08:

    @al-Ameda: Deaths from influenza in the US vary from maybe 3,000 in a good year to maybe 50,000 in a bad year. Influenza is regarded as clearly a public health issue. 30,000 a year are shot to death. I have no idea how many wounded. How is this out of bounds for discussion as a health issue??

    I agree with you.
    We’re awash in guns – over 300 million guns in a nation of over 300 million people. I believe our culture of gun ownership, easy gun acquisition, and gun violence is a public health concern.

  13. stonetools says:

    Heh. Not only did Murthy speak out on the gun issue, he also spoke out about contraception:

    The latter position, tweeted by Murthy in October 2012, drew condemnation from conservatives in Congress, whose grumbling prompted Senate Democrats to delay action on his nomination until after the November elections. As a result, the nation’s top doctor’s office has remained empty for 17 months.

    “Tired of politicians playing politics w/ guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue,” Dr. Murthy tweeted on Oct. 12, 2012.

    Murthy also drew ire from conservatives for a tweet in which he lauded the Affordable Care Act for giving women “choice and access to contraception,” adding, “what’s wrong with choice?”

    When queried about his position on contraception by Wyoming Republican Sen. Mike Enzi last February, Murthy said it was “informed by science,” and added that when women have access to contraception, mothers are healthier.

    I’m getting the impression that the Obama Administration is out of f#*ks to give when it comes to pandering to the anti-science conservative crowd. He just doesn’t seem to care anymore about “splitting the difference” and “engaging in dialogue” with the “Back to the 19th Century” folks.

  14. Paul L. says:

    I believe our culture of gun ownership, easy gun acquisition, and gun violence is a public health concern.

    Progressive logic:
    Guns are a disease that the CDC should study..
    So are knives, clubs, hammers and fists.

    Please Democrats bring back the National Conversation on Guns.

  15. al-Ameda says:

    @Paul L.:

    Progressive logic:
    Guns are a disease that the CDC should study..
    So are knives, clubs, hammers and fists.
    Please Democrats bring back the National Conversation on Guns.

    Conservative logic:
    “Knives, clubs, hammers and fists – they’re all the same as guns.”

    You guys are winning, polling shows that the public is buying in the gun ownership cult, so I don’t understand why you’re so insecure?

  16. Hazelrah says:

    Can someone tell me why Doug claims this guy is controversial?

  17. Tyrell says:

    @Rick DeMent: Where did I say that he is disqualified ? My point was that SG Koop raised the stature and awareness level of the surgeon general position. No one could name one sg before Koop. I don’t have a problem with Dr. Murthy at all. I never said that I did. He seems fine to me.