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Vivek Murthy, the new Surgeon General of the U.S. (photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)
Surgeon General Finally Confirmed in Major Win Over Gun Lobby
By Tara Culp-Ressler, ThinkProgress
16 December 14
On Monday evening, the Senate finally confirmed President Obama’s nominee for U.S. Surgeon General, filling a position that’s been left vacant for the past 17 months.
“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.”
Dr. Vivek Murthy’s confirmation marks the end of a long fight with the gun lobby, which tried toblock him from being approved because of his characterization of gun violence as a public health issue. Murthy has also faced ongoing opposition from some Republican leaders who have criticized him for being too much of a “political activist.” In addition to his stance on guns, he founded the organization Doctors for America and has been a vocal supporter of the Affordable Care Act.
Nonetheless, the new Surgeon General was confirmed this week by a 51-43 vote — made possibleby Democrats’ move to amend the Senate rules last fall so that executive brand nominees only need a simple majority to be confirmed.
Now, he’ll assume the role of the primary government spokesperson on public health issues. According to Murthy’s supporters, that’s a particularly important role in light of the ongoing Ebola epidemic. “It is more important than ever that we have a level-headed surgeon general in place who can calmly communicate with the American people,” argued a petition pressuring Congress to confirm Murthy.
The Surgeon General is also responsible for overseeing the 6,700 members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a team of health professionals that traces its history back to the U.S. Marine Hospital Service, which protected Americans against the spread of disease as sailors returned from abroad in the 1800s. Today, the corps members are deployed to respond to natural disasters and other potential public health threats, like foodborne illnesses.
Plus, Murthy will chair the National Prevention Council, a new partnership created by Obamacare that coordinates across 20 different government agencies to promote community-based wellness programs. So far, that council has mainly focused on promoting tobacco cessation and expanding access to healthy foods.
Murthy has been candid about the kind of work he plans to do in the Surgeon General’s office. During Senate hearings in February, he said that if were confirmed, he would focus on preventing childhood obesity, increasing rates of childhood vaccination, and driving down smoking rates. He said that he’s “deeply passionate” about disease prevention.
The American Public Health Association praised Murthy’s nomination, saying in a statement that the confirmation of a new Surgeon General will lead to “positive health outcomes” for the country. “For 140 years, the U.S. surgeon general has helped make our nation healthier,” the group said. “The costs of tobacco on our country, both in lives and money, have dropped for 50 years thanks in large part to effective leadership from the bully pulpit.”
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