White House assessing surgeon general pick after NRA opposition

The White House said Monday that administration officials were “recalibrating” amid growing opposition to President Obama’s nomination for surgeon general from Senate Democrats and criticism from the National Rifle Association.

“We are recalibrating and assessing our strategy moving forward with the nomination,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

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As many as 10 Senate Democrats have signaled that they would oppose the nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy, who was targeted by the influential gun lobby after voicing support for bans of certain types of firearms and ammunition purchases. Murthy has also called for mandatory gun safety programs and the removal of restrictions on antigun advocacy research.

The White House spokesman did not explain what form that shift in strategy would take, but insisted that the administration had not abandoned Murthy’s nomination.

“Dr. Murthy is a dynamic, entrepreneurial practitioner who had dedicated a lot of time, energy and passion to health and wellness,” Carney said. “As surgeon general he will be a powerful messenger on these issues and each of the tenets of health -- nutrition, activity and resilience.”

The White House spokesman acknowledged that the decision to change strategy was at least partially due to the defeat last week of Debo Adegbile, the president’s pick to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

In an embarrassment to the White House and Senate leadership, the Senate rejected Adegbile’s nomination after Democratic lawmakers critical of his association with the legal defense of a convicted cop killer joined Republican opposition. It was the first defeat of an Obama nominee since Democrats changed the chamber’s rules to require only a majority to advance most nominees.

A White House official told The New York Times that a range of options, including delaying the vote until after the midterm elections or allowing Murthy to withdraw, was under consideration. The White House is also likely to work with Democratic leaders to rally more support.