The U.S. Senate on Monday approved President Barack Obama’s nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy to serve as U.S. surgeon general, despite opposition from Republicans and some Democrats over his support for gun control and past statements that gun violence is a public health issue.
The U.S. has been without a Senate-confirmed surgeon general since July 2013. The surgeon general does not set policy but is an advocate for the people’s health.
Murthy, 37, a physician at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School, won confirmation on a vote of 51-43. The son of immigrants from India is a co-founder of Doctors for America, a group that has pushed for affordable health care and supports Obama’s health care law.
Supporters said Murthy is well-qualified and noted his promise not to use the position as a bully pulpit for gun control.
Murthy’s confirmation “makes us better positioned to save lives around the world and protect the American people here at home,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. Murthy “will also help us build on the progress we’ve made combatting Ebola, both in our country and at its source” in West Africa.
Murthy’s confirmation represented a rare defeat for the National Rifle Association, the influential gun owners lobbying group, told senators that a vote for Murthy would be scored against them when they rate lawmakers’ votes during election campaigns.
Republican Sen. John Barrasso said most of Murthy’s career has been spent as an activist focused on gun control and other political issues, rather than on treating patients. “Americans don’t want a surgeon general who might use this position of trust to promote his own personal campaign against the Second Amendment of the Constitution,” Barrasso said.
Murthy expressed support for gun control in a letter to Congress after the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting.
His nomination was endorsed by more than 100 health organizations, including the American College of Physicians, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.
Before founding Doctors for America, Murthy created a nonprofit that focused on HIV/AIDS education in India and the U.S. And he co-founded a technology company, TrialNetworks, that helps drug developers collaborate on clinical trials.
At a Senate hearing in February, Murthy said he wouldn’t use the position to push gun control. He said his priorities include fighting obesity and helping communities promote healthier living.