Dr. Vivek Murthy was confirmed Monday by the Senate to become the next surgeon general, more than a year after he was nominated by President Barack Obama. The vote was 51-43 in favor of approving his nomination for the public health advocacy post, with only one Republican voting to confirm.
A broad array of healthcare organizations had been pushing for approval of Murthy's nomination. They cited public health emergencies, particularly the ongoing Ebola outbreak, as evidence of the need for the position to be filled.
“For 140 years, the U.S. surgeon general has helped make our nation healthier,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said in a written statement. “We know that today's confirmation is a critical step in the right direction that will lead to more positive health outcomes.”
The vote was largely along party lines. Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana voted against Murthy, while Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois was the lone Republican supporting his nomination.
Murthy will become the country's 19th surgeon general. He replaces Dr. Regina Benjamin, who resigned in July of last year. Dr. Boris Lushniak had been serving as the acting surgeon general in the interim.
Murthy's nomination had been stalled in part over opposition from the National Rifle Association, which was angered by comments he made prior to his nomination about gun violence as a public health issue. In addition, some opponents had questioned the 37-year-old doctor's qualifications for the post and whether his selection was an act of political patronage. Murthy had said he would not press his gun control views as surgeon general.
Murthy founded the group Doctors for America, which supports the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He works at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and is an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. In 2011, Murthy was appointed by Obama to serve on an HHS advisory council on health promotion and public health. He also has worked on HIV and AIDS education, co-founding a not-for-profit, Visions, focused on that mission in the U.S. and in India.
“After meeting with Dr. Murthy, I don't question his medical qualifications,” Manchin said in a written statement prior to the vote. “I just question whether the public will believe that he can separate his political beliefs from his public health views.”
But Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who championed Murthy's nomination, dismissed any questions about his fitness for the post. He cited Ebola and the looming flu season as reasons that Murthy needed to be confirmed. “Dr. Murthy's credentials are without question,” Blumenthal said during the Senate floor debate. “The surgeon general as a leader is needed right now.”
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