Manchin sides with NRA against Obama's surgeon general nominee

Manchin sides with NRA against Obama's surgeon general nominee
© Greg Nash

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Kentucky Democrat says primary challenge to McGrath 'might be helpful' MORE (D-W.Va.) on Monday bucked Democratic leadership to vote against the controversial surgeon general nominee whom conservatives have bashed for calling gun violence a public health concern.

“I don’t believe it’s appropriate for America’s number one doctor to participate in political activism,” Manchin said in a statement Monday an hour before the Senate confirmed Dr. Vivek MurthyVivek Hallegere MurthyThe Hill's Morning Report — Dem ire at Barr intensifies Bill and Chelsea Clinton announce podcast launch for summer Can Scott Gottlieb reverse the opioid crisis? MORE in a 51-43 vote.

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“I don’t question his medical qualifications; I just question whether the public will believe that he can separate his political beliefs from his public health views. I am wary that his past comments and political involvement will have an impact on his leadership capabilities and effectiveness,” Manchin added.

Manchin received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association during his first few years in office. But he helped author bills to increase background check requirements and ban certain automatic weapons in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. That drew significant ire from the NRA, which ran attack ads against his support for those bills.

The former West Virginia governor has hinted that he might leave the Senate when his term ends in 2016. He’s reportedly debating a bid to return to the governor’s mansion, where NRA support could be crucial.

Murthy’s nomination had been held up for more than a year after conservative groups, led by the NRA, publicized tweets in which he called guns a “public health issue.” He had previously declared support for policies like background checks and ammunition limits and accused members of Congress of “playing politics” with guns because they were “scared of the NRA.”

The Harvard- and Yale-trained internist was also widely opposed by senators from both parties who sought to distance themselves from President Obama’s healthcare policy. Vivek helped campaign for Obama in 2012 with a group called Doctors for America.

At his confirmation hearing in February, Murthy acknowledged that his support for ObamaCare “can be perceived as partisan” but stressed that the healthcare debate did not have to fall on party lines.

His nomination stalled earlier this year as 10 Democrats looked likely to vote against Murthy. 

— This story was updated at 6:55 p.m.