Indian-origin Murthy to become US surgeon general

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Dec 16, 2014 18:30 IST

US senate voted to confirm Vivek Murthy as the next surgeon general, a position often called America's Doctor. He is the first Indian American to hold and the position, and the youngest.

His confirmation also marked a major defeat for the powerful gun lobby spearheaded by the National Rifles Association, which had lobbied hard with senators to block a vote.

And nearly succeeded, delaying a vote for 10 months.

Democrats pushed the nomination through in the dying days of their leadership of the upper chamber, which passes into Republican hand next month following recent polls.

Murthy was confirmed by a 51-43 vote.

Welcoming Murthy's confirmation as "America's Doctor", President Barack Obama said he will "hit the ground running" and "build on the progress we've made combating Ebola".

Indian Americans, who were following the confirmation process closely, were ecstatic. Ami Bera, Indian American congressman, called the confirmation "historic" for the community.

At 37, Murthy, who was born into a family from Karnataka, becomes the youngest surgeon general in US history, something that made some senators publicly wonder if he was too young.

Considered whip smart - studied biochemical sciences from Harvard and then a combined medicine and business degree from Yale - Murthy has been working at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital as a physician.

But it were his political work and comments about gun control that got him into trouble with Republicans, many of whom vowed to not let his nomination go through.

Specially this tweet from him in October, 2012: "Tired of politicians playing politics w/ guns, putting lives at risk b/c they're scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue."

NRA wrote to all senators urging them to block his nomination saying his confirmation would be "prescription for disaster for America's gun owners". Many senators agreed.

One Republican senator pointedly asked Murthy his confirmation hearing in February if he will use the office of surgeon general to push his personal views on gun control.

Murthy responded in the negative, saying he will be focussing on obesity prevention. But his critics were not convinced. They had one other issue with him.

He was an outspoken supporter of Obama's healthcare reforms.

Some other Indian Americans nominated to high offices by Obama

Sri Srinivasan: Judge at DC circuit court of appeals (roughly a high court), which puts him in line for a Supreme Court judgeship

Nisha Biswal: First Indian American to hold the powerful position of assistant secretary of state heading South and Central Asia

Rich Verma: As the first Indian American named US ambassador to a major country - India. He was confirmed by the senate last week. Verma earlier held the position of assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs

Aneesh Chopra: First Chief Technology Officer of the United States, who has since moved on, running unsuccessfully for the Democratic ticket for Virginia governorship

Preet Bharara: Who as US attorney for the Southern District of New York has successfully prosecuted many for insider trading, including Rajat Gupta. His prosecution of diplomat Devyani Khobragade, however, did go down well with Indians

Rajiv Shah: As USAID administrator, Shah is possibly the senior most Indian American in Obama's administration now

Puneet Talwar: Assistant secretary of state for bureau of political-military affairs. He is reported to have played a significant role in the recent thaw in US-Iran ties

Vivek Kundra: First Chief Information Officer of the US, who has since moved on

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