Senate Confirms Obama Surgeon General Pick Despite NRA Opposition

FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2014, photo, Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. Surgeon General, listens on Capitol Hill in Washington. The White House is backing off its push for... FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2014, photo, Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. Surgeon General, listens on Capitol Hill in Washington. The White House is backing off its push for quick confirmation of Obama’s pick to be surgeon general in the face of opposition from the National Rifle Association and concerns among Democrats up for re-election who don’t want to make another tough vote on a controversial nominee. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File) MORE LESS
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The Senate on Monday narrowly confirmed Vivek Murthy to be the next U.S. surgeon general, overcoming strong opposition from the National Rifle Association.

A procedural vote to advance the nomination succeeded 51-43. Moments later, Murthy achieved final confirmation by an identical vote of 51-43.

The Democrats who voted against Murthy to be the country’s next top doctor were Sens. Joe Manchin (WV), Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and Joe Donnelly (IN). One Republican, Sen. Mark Kirk (IL) voted for Murthy — he’s up for reelection in 2016 in President Barack Obama’s home state.

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

Murthy will be the country’s first Indian-American surgeon general, serving as the United States’ chief spokesman on matters of public health. He’ll be the first Senate-confirmed surgeon general since the position was vacated on July 2013, replacing Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak.

“I applaud the Senate for confirming Vivek Murthy to be our country’s next Surgeon General,” Obama said in a statement. “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. 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 nomination stalled early in 2014 as numerous Democrats were spooked by opposition from the NRA, which objected to his past comments that gun violence was a public health issue, and his support for gun control measures like universal background checks and a prohibition on assault weapons. Prior to the vote on Monday, the gun lobby attacked Murthy and told TPM it would grade senators on how they vote.

Murthy has been willing to needle the NRA:

“Dr. Murthy is right,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said. “Gun violence is a problem that this country should be addressing.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) teed up the vote during a dramatic weekend session in which stalling on the spending bill by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) gave him an opening to move forward.

Confirmation required a simple majority as opposed to 60 votes, due to new rules established by Senate Democrats in 2013. Just after the vote, Reid, whose gun control push was scuttled amid NRA opposition last year, tweeted:

Born in England and raised in Florida, Murthy has an MD and MBA from Yale. He has worked as a physician-instructor at Harvard Medical School, created the anti-HIV/AIDS nonprofit organization VISIONS and co-founded Doctors For America (originally Doctors For Obama) in 2008. He’s supported by more than 100 medical and public health groups.

Leading the opposition to Murthy was Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who is next in line to chair the Senate health committee. “Unfortunately,” he said, citing the nominee’s advocacy for Obama and his remarks on guns and health, “Dr. Murthy’s experience does not demonstrate the leadership and knowledge of public health that we expect from our surgeons general.”

This article was updated to add a statement by President Obama.

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