US Senate approves new surgeon general

US Senate approves new surgeon general
Doctor Vivek Murthy.

WASHINGTON - The US Senate confirmed the long-delayed nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy for surgeon general on Monday, as Democrats pushed to approve some of President Barack Obama's stalled choices for government posts before Republicans take power in Congress next year.

Obama's pick for the top US public health job was approved 51-43. Earlier, Murthy barely cleared a procedural hurdle after he drew opposition over his support for stricter gun regulations.

Obama applauded the Senate and said in a statement that Murthy would "help us build on the progress we've made combating Ebola, both in our country and at its source."

The Senate will vote on Tuesday on another contentious nominee, Sarah Saldana. Her nomination to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office became bogged down after she said the president's executive action on immigration was legal.

The Senate scheduled votes on Murthy, Saldana and three other nominees for Monday and Tuesday as part of Majority Leader Harry Reid's push to get nominations through the Senate before it goes home for the year.

Reid hopes to move about 20 more nominees later this week in a process he started over the weekend, when delaying tactics by conservative Republicans on a government spending bill kept the Senate in session unexpectedly and gave him an opening.

Last year, Democrats infuriated Republicans by changing Senate rules so government nominations can advance to confirmation votes by a simple majority of the 100-member Senate, rather than a 60-vote supermajority.

Still, some nominations have languished. Obama nominated Murthy a year ago, but some Republicans and the National Rifle Association criticised his gun-control views. Senator Ted Cruz, a conservative Republican, called Murthy an "anti-gun activist."

Murthy, who has been working as an internal medicine physician in Boston, also advocated the Affordable Care Act, Obama's signature health initiative and anathema to most Republicans.

Supporters of Murthy noted more than 100 public health organisations endorsed him, calling him a "well qualified, forward-thinking, innovative leader with a strong commitment to public health."

"Does that sound like a political hack when 100 organisations say that about this doctor?" said Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat.

Two other nominees cleared procedural votes Monday: Daniel Santos to serve on the Defence Nuclear Facilities board, and Frank Rose as assistant secretary of state.

On Tuesday, the Senate will vote on Saldana and Antony Blinken, nominated for the No. 2 post in the State Department.

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