Bill Press: A cowardly Congress

Bill Press: A cowardly Congress
© Greg Nash

If you needed proof that Congress is more politicized than ever before, here it is: the Senate’s failure to confirm Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama’s nominee for surgeon general. I’ve talked with many lawmakers and lobbyists. Looking back, nobody can remember such organized opposition to any prospective surgeon general — a post which, after all, has no power.

Nor has there ever been, perhaps, a more qualified candidate. Murthy is a practicing physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. A national leader in HIV prevention and education, he also founded Doctors for America, bringing 16,000 doctors and medical students together in support of the Affordable Care Act. He has the support of more than 50 healthcare organizations, including the American Public Health Association. He’d be the first Indian-American to serve as surgeon general.

But Murthy ran into a buzz saw of opposition — not because he supports ObamaCare, but because he dared tell the truth. 

Based on his experience as an emergency room physician, treating hundreds of victims of gun violence, Murthy once remarked: “Guns are a healthcare issue.” Anybody with half a brain knows that’s true. Gun deaths cost taxpayers billions of dollars a year. 

Yet those six words, plus his support for an assault weapons ban, have earned Murthy the wrath of the National Rifle Association — and they’ve leveled both barrels at him. In a February letter to Senate leaders, NRA legislative director Chris Cox wrote: “Simply put, confirmation of Dr. Murthy is a prescription for disaster for America’s gun owners.” 

Surely even the NRA knows that’s absurd. What can a surgeon general actually do about gun control? Nothing! The surgeon general can’t seize any guns, issue any bans on guns, limit any purchase of guns or pass any legislation on guns. Not even a president can do that. All a surgeon general can do is articulate the latest findings about healthcare issues, like C. Everett Koop did about tobacco, and hope that those in authority take action. Is the NRA so afraid of the facts?

Sadly, opposition from the NRA has been enough to scare off so many senators that, even under relaxed new filibuster rules, the White House can’t round up 51 Democrats to confirm Murthy. So many nervous Democrats up for reelection are afraid of bucking the NRA that the administration’s been forced to retreat. At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney told me it’s now “recalibrating” its strategy for Murthy’s confirmation.

What a telling contrast between the timidity of senators on gun control and the determination of the American people. In the latest polls, despite opposition of the NRA, 59 percent of Americans support an assault weapons ban, and 65 percent support criminal background checks on all gun purchases. 

The American people are not cowards. We just have a cowardly Congress.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.