Seven Senate Democrats sent a letter to President Donald Trump May 3 questioning the abrupt dismissal of former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
Murthy – who was relieved of his post April 21 – said in a lengthy statement on his personal Facebook page that he did not resign when asked to do so. “I would never willfully abandon my commitment to my Commissioned Corps officers, to the American people, and to all who have stood with me to build a healthier and more compassionate America. While that decision to stand on principle resulted in my termination prior to the end of my four-year term, I know that the Office of the Surgeon General is greater than any one person, and its mission must continue,” stated the Indian American physician.
Surgeon Generals normally serve a four-year term, regardless of which political party heads up the White House. Murthy – who was appointed by former President Barack Obama – would have ended his term in December 2018.
“In light of your Administration’s pattern of politically-motivated and ethically questionable personal decisions, the decision to – against historical precedent – remove Dr. Murthy from his role, prior to the end of his four-year term raises serious concerns,” wrote the senators, in their letter to Trump.
“Furthermore, we are troubled by the abrupt nature of his dismissal and whether it allowed for adequate transition planning for the operational leadership of the 6,500 members of Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, who serve around the world to promote, protect, and advance the health and safety of our nation,” admonished the senators.
The letter was signed by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Washington; Al Franken of Minnesota; Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; Chris Murphy of Connecticut; Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. All are members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
The White House had not issued a response by press time May 3.
In their letter to Trump, the senators noted that Murthy had been a leader in exposing the opioid crisis emerging in the U.S., and initiated the “Turn the Tide” campaign, which called on health care providers to become better-educated on prescribing opioids, and to become better communicators with their patients about opioid addiction.
Murthy’s work in this area received bi-partisan support, noted the senators, adding that the former surgeon general also received support from both sides of the aisle for his strategies to combat the Zika virus, and the Flint, Michigan water crisis, in which lead and other toxins were found in the city’s drinking water supplies.
The senators noted that Murthy received some criticism for his fierce advocacy of stricter gun-control legislation. Murthy has long termed gun violence as one of the U.S.’s most-pressing health challenges. The National Rifle Association vehemently opposed Murthy’s confirmation in 2014.
Murthy was also criticized for attempting to reduce the use of e-cigarettes by teens and young adults. Several studies have concluded that the risk for developing cancer from e-cigarette use may be up to 15 times higher than the risk from smoking traditional cigarettes.
The senators questioned the Administration’s removal of Murthy before the end of his four-year term, asking whether an analysis had been conducted of his effectiveness. The senators asked whether the Administration had concerns about Murthy’s scientific and medical expertise. They blatantly asked whether Murthy’s position on gun regulation contributed to the decision to remove him from his post.
“The Surgeon General must remain independent and free from political pressure,” wrote the senators, chiding Trump for failing to uphold such standards.