President Obama should stand behind his choice for surgeon general and refuse to surrender to the National Rifle Association — or to nervous Democrats who fear the organization.
Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, a Harvard- and Yale-educated internist at Brigham and Women’s hospital, is well qualified for the surgeon general’s post. But the Brookline resident is under attack because, over the years, he has expressed support for a range of gun control measures. According to The New York Times, as many as 10 Democrats might vote against him. Many of them come from states where public sentiments are strongly pro-gun, and they are loath to defy the NRA, which plans to include a confirmation vote on Murthy in its legislative scorecard.
As a result, the White House is said to be “recalibrating its strategy,” with Murthy’s withdrawal one strategy under consideration. Yet if Murthy withdraws, the NRA will have bullied its way across a new line. It’s one thing for the NRA to lobby against specific gun-control bills, as it did after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It’s another for Democrats to let a hostile special-interest group exercise such broad veto power over their party’s nominees. In this case, the gun lobby is targeting Murthy based on “the likelihood he would use the office of surgeon general to further his preexisting campaign against gun ownership,” the NRA said in a February letter to Senate leadership.
Murthy does support limits on who can own guns and how they can be purchased, among other restrictions. Yet at his confirmation hearing, he testified that he did not intend to use the surgeon general’s office as a platform for gun control advocacy. The NRA still brands him as radically anti-gun.
In truth, gun advocates’ opposition to Murthy ultimately has little to do with the nominee himself. His stances on a variety of health-related issues, including guns, are common among public-health advocates and are in line with the president’s. Obama should be rallying support for his nominee, and pressing wary Democratic senators to vote their consciences.