The Senate on Monday narrowly confirmed President Obama’s pick for surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, after the nomination was held up for more than a year. The Senate voted 51 to 43 to confirm Murthy, who received both an M.B.A. and M.D. from Yale.
More than a year has passed since anyone has served as the U.S.’s top doctor; the country’s most recent surgeon general, Regina Benjamin, served from 2009 to 2013. The delay over Murthy’s confirmation was in part to shield vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in the 2014 midterm elections, so they wouldn’t have to vote for Murthy, according to NBC News’ Frank Thorp.
Obama applauded the Senate vote. “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,” the president said in a statement. “Vivek will also help us build on the progress we’ve made combating Ebola, both in our country and at its source. 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.”
Murthy faced opposition from the National Rifle Association and some Republican members of Congress over his outspoken stance on gun control. Murthy wrote a letter to Congress urging the passage of stricter gun control measures. He also tweeted shortly after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut: “NRA press conference disappointing but predictable - blame everything in the world except guns for the Newtown tragedy. #wakeup.”
The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action wrote a letter in February to Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, arguing that Murthy’s “record of political activism in support of radical gun control measures raises significant concerns about his ability to objectively examine issues pertinent to America’s 100 million firearm owners and the likelihood he would use the office of Surgeon General to further his preexisting campaign against gun ownership.”
In a statement Monday, the NRA said its position on Murthy hadn’t changed. “America’s next surgeon general should not be a political operative whose professional inexperience has been a source of bipartisan concern,” said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.
Three Democrats voted against Murthy’s confirmation – Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana; Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota; and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. In a statement, Manchin said he didn’t question Murthy’s medical qualifications but questioned “whether the public will believe that he can separate his political beliefs from his public health views.”
Just one Republican senator – Mark Kirk of Illinois – voted in favor of Murth’s confirmation.
The U.S. has been without a surgeon general as several cases of Ebola have been diagnosed on American soil, sexual assaults on campus have drawn increased scrutiny and heroin use has doubled over the past five years.
As former Surgeon General Benjamin told msnbc’s Krystal Ball, the nation’s top health official fills a unique role. “The surgeon general is America’s doctor,” she said. “Delivering information to the American people in a language they can understand. Not having one right now, you don’t have that face and that person that the American people can identify with as their doctor who’s looking out for them on a large scale.”