Did the NRA Play a Role in the Forcing the Resignation of Surgeon General?

In 2014, controversy surrounded Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, after a 2012 tweet and letter he wrote to congress surfaced in which he stated that guns are a healthcare issue and asked congress to act to reduce gun violence. Dr. Marthy’s anti-gun rhetoric incited backlash from the NRA in opposition of his nomination.

MSNBC reported in March 2014, “on a vote of 13-9, Murthy’s nomination passed through the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. But his path forward to full confirmation is now under assault from the National Rifle Association, which penned a letter strongly opposing Murthy as Surgeon General.” The Washington Post noted after he was ultimately confirmed in December 2014, “by far the most vehement opposition to Murthy’s confirmation came from the National Rifle Association, which called him a ‘serious threat to the rights of gun owners’ because of his support of tighter gun control laws.”

Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) initially withheld Murthy’s vote in the Senate until after the 2014 elections to avoid putting pressure on Democrats in pro-gun states. The New York Times reported that as many as 10 Democrats were considering voting against Dr. Murthy because of his gun comments. Dr. Murthy was narrowly confirmed in a 51-43 vote in December 2014, more than a year after the position had been vacant. Three Democrats, Senator Joe Manchin (D-VA), Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN) voted against Dr. Murthy, while Democrats who lost in the 2014 elections were able to cast votes in his favor before their elected office turned over, pushing Dr. Murthy’s nominee through with a simple majority.

“The NRA’s position hasn’t changed. America’s next surgeon general should not be a political operative whose professional inexperience has been a source of bipartisan concern,” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said in a statement before the vote. Republicans also contested Dr. Murthy’s nomination on the Senate floor. Senator Rand Paul wrote a letter to Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) asserting that Dr. Murthy’s statements on guns disqualified him for the position.

The NRA ran opposition articles leading up to and following Dr. Murthy’s nomination. In an October 2014 article published on its website, the NRA claimed the media and Democrats were exploiting the Ebola virus to push through Dr. Murthy’s confirmation as Surgeon General. Preceding the confirmation vote, the NRA renewed calls for their opposition, citing that they believe he would use his position as Surgeon General to pursue a public health agenda on gun violence. “America’s public health apparatus has long been seen by gun control advocates as a key element to legitimizing their agenda.  Public funding of gun control propaganda, in the form of junk science studies emanating from the Centers for Disease Control and its affiliated entities, is merely one piece of the puzzle,” a December 2014 appearing in the NRA website claimed, referring to pushes for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a comprehensive study on gun violence, despite it being one of the top causes of death for people under the age of 65 in the United States. In response to Dr. Murthy’s successful confirmation as Surgeon General, the NRA noted they would score the vote against the Senators who supported his nomination.

The NRA put a lot of resources and effort in opposing Dr. Murthy’s nomination. Given their record and history against the Surgeon General, its unlikely they didn’t exert some influence or push for Trump to ask for his resignation. Fox News reported on April 15 that Trump will be the first president since Ronald Reagan to address the NRA’s Annual Leadership Forum and he recently hosted NRA Board Member Ted Nugent during a White House visit.  Dr. Murthy formally resigned on April 22 in response to Trump’s request, and will be temporarily replaced by Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams until a replacement is confirmed by the Senate.

Michael Sainato’s writing has appeared in the Guardian, Miami Herald, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, Buffalo News, the Hill, Alternet, and several other publications . Follow him on twitter: @MSainat1