Senate Confirms Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General, Again
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WASHINGTON — By a vote of 57-43, the Senate on Tuesday confirmed Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, to be Surgeon General for a second time.

The vote was mostly along party lines, but seven Republicans did vote in Murthy’s favor: senators Bill Cassidy, MD (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Roger Marshall, MD (R-Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

Murthy, 43, first served in the post during the Obama administration, from 2014 to 2017, and therefore was a familiar face for President Biden. But his nomination engendered controversy.

In his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee last month, Republican members appeared skeptical of his ability to separate his policy actions from his political views and seemed to be weighing the chances that Murthy could seek to promote tighter gun control measures.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the committee’s ranking member, questioned Murthy’s motivation to reprise his role as Surgeon General. “I worry about your ability to separate political influence from your ability to communicate healthcare decisions,” he said, pointing to Murthy’s appearance at the Democratic National Convention as one example of his partisanship.

Murthy stressed in his opening statement that if confirmed as Surgeon General, he would “serv[e] every single American” and see “beyond labels.”

Democrats, on the other hand, lauded Murthy for his prior experience in the job. “One of the reasons I know Dr. Murthy is the right pick to serve as Surgeon General, is because he has already done the job, and done it well,” said HELP Committee chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “During his last tenure as America’s doctor, he established himself as a trusted voice on public health issues, saw our nation through public health emergencies like the Zika epidemic in 2016, led the charge against the opioid crisis, and shined a light on how stress, isolation, and other mental health issues threaten Americans’ wellbeing — an issue that is all the more urgent given the trauma of this pandemic.”

“In short, he proved why he’s exactly the kind of leader we need as Surgeon General today,” said Murray.

One hot-button issue at the hearing was gun violence. Sen. Mike Braun (R.-Ind.) asked Murthy whether he believes “guns present a public health emergency.” Murthy has previously been a target for some conservatives because of his strong views on gun violence prevention.

Murthy responded that “gun violence is a concern to me as a doctor … but I think the way we approach that issue, senator, should be driven by science.” He emphasized the continued need to invest in research. He also reassured Braun that his primary focus during his second tenure would not be on guns or gun violence. “If I’m confirmed it will be on COVID, on mental health, and on substance use disorders. These are the issues which I think are front and center.”

The HELP Committee eventually voted 16-6 to favorably report out Murthy’s nomination to the full Senate, but Murthy’s performance at the hearing did not win Burr over. “Americans need to be able to trust the messages delivered by the Surgeon General are fact-based and bias-free,” Burr said in a statement after the full Senate confirmation vote. “Unfortunately, I am still deeply concerned about Dr. Murthy’s ability to separate his political convictions from the public health decisions he will once again have to make in this role. For this reason, I voted against his confirmation.”

  • Joyce Frieden oversees MedPage Today’s Washington coverage, including stories about Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, healthcare trade associations, and federal agencies. She has 35 years of experience covering health policy. Follow

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