Murthy, Doctor Opposed for Gun Comments, Confirmed as Surgeon General

The Senate confirmed Vivek Murthy, a physician who has called gun violence a public health issue, as U.S. surgeon general more than a year after President Barack Obama chose him for the job.

The vote was 51-43 on one of the Senate’s last work days before Democrats turn the majority over to Republicans in January. After Obama nominated Murthy in November 2013, his confirmation was delayed amid opposition from Republicans and the National Rifle Association, a Fairfax, Virginia-based pro-gun lobby.

Murthy, an internal medicine physician and Harvard Medical School instructor, is co-founder and president of Doctors for America, a group that advocates in favor of the Affordable Care Act. In an October 2012 posting on Twitter, he said politicians are “scared of NRA” and called guns a “health-care issue.”

Republicans say Murthy isn’t qualified for the post and question his political involvement. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has referred to Murthy as “an anti-gun activist.”

The NRA’s website says confirmation of Murthy “would pose a serious threat to the rights of gun owners.”

In November, a coalition of more than 100 health-care groups, including the American Heart Association and American Public Health Association, urged senators to confirm Murthy.

Public Vetting

Murthy has “undergone a full public vetting and weathered any criticisms,” Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said in a Dec. 8 statement. “The few concerns that have surfaced during this period have shown no merit.”

Boris Lushniak has served as acting surgeon general since July 2013.

In a statement, Obama praised Murthy’s confirmation, saying he would work on combating Ebola domestically and overseas.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

Emergency Room

In a speech on the Senate floor, Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin defended Murthy’s credentials and said it should be obvious that gun violence is a public-health problem.

“Go to an emergency room on a Friday or Saturday night, and you tell me that gun violence isn’t a public-health issue,” Durbin said. “Gun violence is a public-health issue. No apology necessary.”

Murthy drew opposition from Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who co-sponsored a measure, rejected by the Senate in April 2013, that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases.

“I don’t believe it’s appropriate for America’s number one doctor to participate in political activism,” Manchin said in a statement. “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.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said today that he would keep the chamber in session for as long as it takes to confirm Murthy and about two dozen other presidential nominees. Reid got the time to set up the votes during an unusual Saturday marathon session caused by Cruz’s parliamentary tactics that delayed passage of a $1.1 trillion spending bill.

“We’re going to have to be here until we finish our work, whether that’s Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday,” said Reid, a Nevada Democrat. He will turn over the majority leader’s position in January to Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell.

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