The Trump administration asked U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, an Obama administration appointee, to resign his role on Friday and quickly moved his deputy, Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams, into the role.
The resignation is somewhat unusual. A White House spokesperson told the New York Times that Murthy was asked to leave “after assisting in a smooth transition into the new Trump administration.”
But employees at the Department of Health and Human Services told the Times they were surprised by the unusually abrupt departure. While it’s not unprecedented, Murthy’s four-year term would have normally ended at the end of this year.
The full reasons for the Trump administration’s request that he step down aren’t clear. But one clue may lie in Murthy’s views on gun control.
These views were immediately apparent after President Obama nominated him to the post and the National Rifle Association circulated a letter opposing his confirmation. The NRA was incensed by a 2013 letter from health professionals that Murthy signed that called “for Congress to pass stronger gun legislation immediately and for us to develop a comprehensive national plan to stop gun violence.” The letter proposed a goal of cutting gun deaths in half by 2020 and laid out some policy proposals to get there. The Senate blocked his nomination for more than a year, which meant the country had no surgeon general during the Ebola crisis.
More recently, in an interview with STAT during the presidential campaign, Murthy reiterated the view that gun violence is a public health issue and said “far too many people die from gun violence,” adding, “And in my book, every single death from gun violence is a tragedy because it was preventable.”
“Whoever the next president is will be my boss, so to speak, and my hope is to be able to work with the next president to address these issues because I think they’re incredibly important,” he added.
Murthy also formed an organization of doctors during debate over the Affordable Care Act to act as a force in favor of the legislation.
Murthy’s views on gun control likely conflicted with Trump’s. On the campaign trail, Trump called for getting rid of gun-free zones and released a position paper that called for easier sales of automatic weapons, a federal concealed carry law, the removal of expanded background checks on gun sales, and “empowering” citizens to defend themselves with guns.
In March, Trump signed a bill that loosened restrictions on the sale of guns to people with mental illness.