Newly appointed “Ebola Czar” Ron Klain’s lack of medical background is drawing attention to that fact that the country’s post of head doctor is empty.
Last year, Obama nominated a 37-year-old doctor, Vivek Murthy, as U.S. Surgeon General, the federal official who is but tasked with communicating health information to the American public. Murthy’s confirmation has been held up in a divided Senate ever since.
Murthy works as an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and teaches at Harvard Medical School.
He co-founded the organization Doctors for America, a group that advocates for strengthening the Affordable Care Act and gun control, among other hot-button issues.
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A Tweet Murthy posted last year calling guns “a health care issue” angered the National Rifle Association, which threatened to downgrade the voting scorecard of any senator who supported his confirmation as Surgeon General.
Republicans and some Democrats announced their opposition. Murthy entered political limbo.
On Friday, soon after Obama announced his appointment of Klain to coordinate the government’s response to Ebola, critics attacked his choice, complaining that Klain is not a medical expert. He is a former White House advisor who served as chief of staff to vice presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore.
Now, as concerns grow about a possible outbreak of Ebola in the U.S., the absence of a permanent Surgeon General has once again become a contentious political issue.
More than 78,000 people have signed a petition at CREDOaction.com, calling on the Senate to confirm Murthy in the face of the Ebola threat.
“Given the corporate media’s failure to responsibly educate the American people about the real risks associated with the Ebola virus _ and the fact that panicking will only make the situation worse _ it is more important than ever that we have a level-headed surgeon general in place who can calmly communicate with the American people,” the petition states.
But Republicans have dug in against Murthy, arguing that he is not experienced enough to handle a situation as serious as an Ebola outbreak.
Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming called on President Obama on Thursday to withdraw Murthy’s nomination and nominate a more qualified medical professional in his place.
Barrasso said Murthy is primarily known for his advocacy of gun control and fundraising for Obama, not for his management of complex health crises or delivery of patient care.
“Now more than ever, our nation needs to have an experienced and effective Surgeon General to help coordinate the government’s Ebola strategy,” he said.
Still, even if the Senate confirmed Murthy as Surgeon General tomorrow, he wouldn’t necessarily play a crucial role in containing an Ebola outbreak. That job falls primarily to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thomas Frieden.
For now, Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak is serving as acting Surgeon General.