Pressure from the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association (NRA) may derail the nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Barack Obama’s choice for Surgeon General.
The gun lobby and its allies in the Senate have launched an all-out assault on Murthy’s nomination, arguing that his position that gun violence prevention is a significant public health threat indicates a hostility towards Second Amendment rights that would ill-serve Americans.
“Dr. 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 that he would use the office of the Surgeon General to further his preexisting campaign against gun ownership,” wrote NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) executive director Chris Cox in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last month.
Specifically, the gun lobby has taken offense to Murthy’s position that gun violence is a public health problem, that doctors should discuss proper gun safety measures with their patients — especially if they have young children — and his support for standard gun violence prevention legislation such as universal background checks. However, those positions are actually supported by every single major doctors’ organization — including the American Medical Association (AMA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Psychiatric Association (APA), and the American College of Emergency Physicians — and Surgeons General who served under Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. And it appears that the NRA’s strategy is working, as at least one Democratic senator has announced his intention to oppose Murthy’s nomination.
“While the Senate has not yet scheduled a vote on Dr. Murthy, I have already told the White House I will very likely vote no on his nomination if it comes to the floor,” said Alaska Sen. Mark Begich (D) in a letter to constituents, according to the Associated Press.
It’s a curious position considering that Alaska has the worst gun-related death rate of any state in the country by a wide margin — twice the national norm — and nearly two-and-a-half times the firearm suicide rate of the rest of the country. Alaskans actually support the same gun violence legislation, such as universal background checks, that are driving Begich’s opposition to Murthy by nearly a two-to-one margin. Begich is up for re-election this fall.
Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and John Barrasso (R-WY) have both stated strong opposition to Murthy’s nomination, as well. Paul has threatened a hold on the nomination and Barrasso explained his concerns over the nominee in an interview with Fox News host Greta Van Susteren in an interview last week.
The White House has also taken heed of the growing opposition and is trying to reshuffle its approach to getting Murthy confirmed, an administration official told USA Today, in the wake of the high-profile failure of lawyer Dego Adegbile’s nomination to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Seven Senate Democrats joined a unified Republican caucus to vote against Adegbile because he once represented convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal while fighting a death penalty verdict.
“After the Debo vote, we are recalibrating the strategy around [Murthy’s] floor vote,” said the senior administration official.
Gun violence is expected to surpass car accidents as the number one killer of young people by next year, according to the Center for American Progress (CAP). Murthy told a Senate committee that battling childhood obesity, which he called America’s “defining public health challenge,” would be his number one priority if he is confirmed as Surgeon General.