WASHINGTON — A group of Democratic senators is pushing back against the dismissal of former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, requesting more information from President Trump in a letter that cites what they call a “pattern of politically motivated and ethically questionable personnel decisions.”
The White House requested Murthy’s resignation in late April; when he refused to resign, he was formally relieved of his duties.
Murthy was known for an uncommon focus on emotional well-being, but his two-year tenure also included two major political flaps.
The first came with his appointment in 2014, which generated controversy seen as a microcosm of the national debate over gun control. Murthy was unapologetic in categorizing gun violence as a public health issue, leading the National Rifle Association to fight his nomination fiercely and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican, to block his nomination for months.
Murthy also took an aggressive stance after the 2016 presidential election, incensing the tobacco lobby by warning against e-cigarette use and calling vaping a public health threat. On Tuesday, the FDA postponed the implementation of a rule agreed on under former President Barack Obama that would have created stricter oversight procedures for e-cigarette manufacturers.
In the letter dated Wednesday, the senators ask the White House directly whether either position contributed to Murthy’s dismissal.
The surgeon general shakeup cut short Murthy’s appointed term by almost two years, and was surprising in that it came so soon in Trump’s first year.
Steven K. Galson was filling the position on an interim basis when Obama was inaugurated, and Obama waited until October of his first year in office to appoint his own acting surgeon general. Former President George W. Bush kept David Satcher, a Bill Clinton appointee, on for the duration of his four-year term.
The letter was copied to Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, and was signed by the health committee’s top Democrat, Senator Patty Murray of Washington. The other six Democratic senators who signed the letter were Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire; Tim Kaine of Virginia; Chris Murphy of Connecticut; Al Franken of Minnesota; and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.
Murthy and an HHS spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.