Desi Talk - page 8

he U.S. Senate confir-
mation of Dr. Vivek
Hallegere Murthy as
Surgeon General of the
United States Dec. 17
was another feather in
the cap of Indian-Americans who
saw one of their own, Richard
Rahul Verma, confirmed just a few
days earlier as Ambassador to
India. But Murthy’s confirmation
was a contentious affair com-
pared toVerma’s. From day one
when President Obama nominat-
ed him in November 2013, the
Boston-based physician became a
controversial figure because of his
past political activism and despite
his well-established qualifications.
None of this could take away from
the victory the Indian-American
community felt its persistent lob-
bying on Capitol Hill had deliv-
Apart from being a historic first
for Indian-Americans, Murthy, at
37, is also the youngest surgeon
general ever to hold that post in
the country’s history. President
Obama lauded his confirmation
calling him“America’s Doctor”
who will hit the ground running
“to make sure every American has
the information they need to keep
themselves and their families
Learning experience
The confirmation process was
also a learning experience for
Indian-Americans who have gen-
erally had uncontroversial candi-
dates who usually sail through the
confirmation process smoothly. In
Murthy’s case, the American
Association of Physicians of
Indian Origin, as well as other
Indian-American and Asian-
American organizations launched
a major lobbying effort on Capitol
Hill.With most Republicans and
some Democrats ranged against
Murthy there were also more than
100 medical and other organiza-
tions that came out to support
The final vote of 51-43 was a
sign the split over Murthy’s
appointment remained wide and
had it not been for a procedural
window of opportunity that
extended the Senate’s session by a
few days, Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid would not have been
able to push through Murthy’s
Sampat Shivangi, co-chair of
AAPI’s Legislative Affairs
Committee and president of the
Indian American Forum for
Political Education, said Murthy’s
confirmation was a victory for the
Indian-American community.
“It was a Herculean effort and
it was well worth it. People from
all walks of life joined hands in
reaching U.S. Senators all over the
country to convince them, that
how important this appointment
is for all of us,” Shivangi said in a
statement sent to News India
Murthy’s greatest opponent
was the powerful National Rifle
Association which campaigned
against him as a supporter of
“radical gun control measures.”
That was not the only thing going
against Murthy. He was also clear-
ly partisan and an early supporter
of then Senator Barack Obama’s
presidential campaign, Murthy
co-founded Doctors for Obama,
later changing the name to
Doctors for America when
President Obama came into
Murthy was also a strong sup-
porter of the Affordable Care Act
or Obamacare. Add to that his
comments on Facebook castigat-
ing those who opposed gun con-
trol, it appeared Murthy’s fate was
sealed – his nomination would
languish in the Senate register but
not reach the floor while
Democrats had a majority, and it
would die a natural death when a
Republican majority took over
Jan. 6 for the 114th Session of
Nominating an ardent fan
Republicans viewed Murthy’s
nomination as a blatantly political
act by the President for an ardent
fan. Ironically, a couple within
Republican ranks supported
Murthy’s candidature but many
more Democrats were against
him, wary of losing the NRA’s sup-
“This is just another example
of President Obama giving some-
one an important job based solely
on their support of the president’s
political career,” Sen. John
Barrasso, R-Wyoming, a doctor
himself, is quoted saying on the
Senate floor during the vote,
according to .
Rep. Lamar Alexander, R-
Tennessee, voiced the
Conservative lobby’s concerns
when he told Murthy his past was
very much at play.
“Much of your work has been
devoted to electing the current
president and advocating the new
health care law, all of which is
your perfect right to do as an
American citizen. But as a public
official, if that becomes your prin-
cipal purpose of the bully pulpit,
that gets to be a problem,” Sen.
Alexander said at the February
hearing of the Senate Health
Shifting stance
Dr. Murthy countered saying
his experience on gun violence
came from patients admitted into
hospital with gunshot wounds
and attendant ills both physical
and psychological; that his job as
Surgeon General was not to make
In a bid to strengthen his
chances, Murthy appeared to shift
his stance somewhat during his
hearing this February. Reassuring
Senators he would not use his
office as a “bully pulpit” for gun
control, Murthy said he would
instead be focusing on preventing
the national scourge of obesity.
But that did not hold water with
the NRA which continued to
oppose him even as doctors and
physician organizations came out
in his support. Supporters con-
tended that Murthy’s views on
gun control mirrored those of
most established medical organi-
zations and could not be held
against him.
“Dr. Murthy’s views that he
expressed many years ago is in
complete congruence with the
American College of Emergency
Physicians, the American College
of Physicians, the American
College of Surgeons, and the
American Academy of Pediatric.
He said nothing different than
what the rest of the public heath
establishment has said,” asserted
Dr. Chris Lillis, the Virginia state
director for Doctors for America
during an interview on National
Public Radio.
Continued on page 17
– that’s all you need to know
December 26, 2014
Despite strong opposition from Republicans,
some Democrats and the gun lobby,
Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy’s nomination as
Surgeon General of the United States, was
pushed through in a procedural window
of opportunity
Ela Dutt
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