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Tuesday, 16 December 2014 06:59

Surgeon General Finally Confirmed Despite Fierce NRA Opposition

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8293879669 5c019705d1 zThe NRA experienced a rare defeat in Congress as surgeon general is confirmed. (Photo: Josh Lopez)

It took a technical parliamentary maneuver by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that backfired, but after long last the National Rifle Association (NRA) has lost a vote.

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Vivek Murthy, MD, was confirmed on Monday as the nation's next surgeon general - despite a strong lobbying push against him by the NRA, because he views gun violence as a public health problem. This perspective among many physicians has long been a primal fear of the NRA. The fanatical organization, operating on behalf of the gun industry and armed white males (which is the subtext of its coded appeals to racial fears), is concerned that if gun violence is considered an epidemic, then it might erode the rallying cry of the Second Amendment meme by shifting the focus of the debate on guns.

Perennial bipartisan PR flak turned "venerable" DC pundit David Gergen recently wrote in support of Murthy's confirmation in a column posted on CNN:

President Barack Obama nominated Murthy early this year, but Republicans ganged up against him on two grounds. They said that at age 39, he was too young and inexperienced for the post. More importantly, they bowed to the National Rifle Association, which fiercely opposed Murthy because he had the temerity to say that guns are a public health issue.

Never mind that Republicans were wrong on both counts. The point is that the NRA remains an extraordinary force in our politics. As it whipped up opposition, a good number of Democratic senators, especially those up for re-election this past November, soon buckled to the NRA too. The White House continued to give Murthy quiet support but ducked a public fight. Murthy's nomination went into a tailspin and has seemed doomed since April.

What happened to turn around a nomination that seemed fated to be abandoned come the Republican-dominated Senate in January? According to Gergen, it was Cruz, a staunch backer of the NRA - who inadvertently opened up the door to Murthy's confirmation:

But then a strange thing happened - by beginning debate on a point of order against Obama's immigration executive order, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz gave Majority Leader Harry Reid the opportunity to call a special session and put two dozen stalled Obama nominees on the agenda for confirmation before the Senate recessed.

The result was that on December 15, by a 51-43 vote, Murthy was confirmed. The surgeon general's position has not been permanently filled for 17 months - a time period that included the stretch in which Republicans were lambasting President Obama for not doing enough about Ebola.

In a full-bore effort to defeat Murthy, the NRA also charged that he supported moderate gun control measures as a founder of Doctors for America. According to NPR,

"The group advocated for the president's health care law, but that's not what got Murthy hung up in the Senate," NPR's Mara Liasson reports today for All Things Considered. "Doctors for America also supports stricter gun control laws, including background checks, mandatory safety training and banning certain semiautomatic weapons."

That the Senate would hold the position of the nation's health policy leader hostage - because the NRA will not tolerate any deviation from its ruinous fanatical advocacy of what amounts to a worship of firearms - indicates that there is little immediate hope of reducing the tide of gun violence in the United States through legislation.

Nonetheless, the confirmation of Murthy as surgeon general is a sign that while the NRA remains virtually indomitable, it is not invincible.

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