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Rand Paul places hold on surgeon general nominee

Dr. Vivek Murthy is President Obama's nominee to be the next US surgeon general.

Charles Dharapak/AP

Dr. Vivek Murthy is President Obama's nominee to be the next US surgeon general.

WASHINGTON -- Kentucky Senator Rand Paul placed a procedural hurdle in front of Dr. Vivek Murthy’s confirmation as surgeon general Wednesday morning, citing his political activity for the Obama administration. But a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it would not cause a meaningful delay in Murthy’s confirmation vote, which has not yet been scheduled.

“I have serious concerns about Dr. Murthy’s ability to impartially serve as ‘the Nation’s Doctor,’” Paul, a Republican, wrote in a letter to Reid. “The majority of Dr. Murthy’s non-clinical experience is in political advocacy.”

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Murthy, a doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, founded Doctors for America, a national organization of 16,000 doctors and medical students that has advocated for the Affordable Care Act and gun control.

“Dr. Murthy has disqualified himself from being Surgeon General because of his intent to use that position to launch an attack on Americans’ right to own a firearm under the guise of a public health and safety campaign,” Paul wrote.

Paul’s criticisms echoed concerns from other Republicans voiced during Murthy’s confirmation hearing earlier this month in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. But at that hearing, at least one critic said he expected Murthy ultimately would be confirmed. Murthy promised during the hearing that he would focus on public health education rather than politics. Paul, who serves on the committee, did not attend the hearing.

Reid’s spokesman, Adam Jentleson, said in an email Wednesday that revised Senate procedures, which now allow filibusters of nominees to be overcome by a simple majority vote, will render Paul’s efforts to place what is known as a “hold” on the confirmation less effective than they were in the past. He noted that Paul had recently placed holds on other nominations, including Janet Yellen, who was confirmed to lead the Federal Reserve in January.

He said the only practical effect of Paul’s action would be forcing the Senate to take an additional vote to schedule confirmation, something that has become routine because of the sharp increase in delay tactics in recent years. In November, Reid led a vote to streamline such votes on presidential nominations, changing Senate rules to allow them to pass with 51 votes instead of 60. Republicans objected, saying the Senate’s bipartisan spirit had been curtailed.

Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.
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