(Adds Senate Democratic aide, paragraphs 3-4)
By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, March 17 The White House said on
Monday it would shift its strategy for winning Senate
confirmation of its choice to be the next U.S. surgeon general
after President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats helped sink
another of his nominees this month.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters the
administration expected Vivek Hallegere Murthy, the head of a
doctors' group, to be confirmed eventually by the U.S. Senate
and was not reconsidering withdrawing Murthy's nomination for
the top health post.
But as of now, Murthy's nomination is significantly short of
the Democratic votes needed for confirmation, a Senate
Democratic aide said on Monday.
Unless that changes, the White House would have only three
options: Delay a vote, put it to a vote that fails, or wait for
the nominee to withdraw.
Earlier this month, seven Democrats broke ranks and joined
Republicans to block the nomination of lawyer Debo Adegbile to
head the Justice Department's civil rights division.
The administration's defeat came eight months before
congressional elections and as some of Obama's Democrats in
Congress did not want to be seen as soft on crime by supporting
Adegbile amid objections from police groups.
Obama nominated Murthy in November to serve as the country's
top public health advocate. Murthy's appointment passed a Senate
panel with bipartisan support. But the full Senate must still
vote to back him.
"After the confirmation vote of Debo Adegbile, we are
recalibrating the strategy around Dr. Murthy's floor vote. We
expect him to get confirmed ultimately and be one of the
country's most powerful messengers on health and wellness,"
Carney told reporters in a briefing.
Carney did not offer any details about the new strategy but
said that "recalibrate" did not mean choosing another nominee.
The administration's reassessment of Murthy also comes amid
opposition from the National Rifle Association, the nation's
leading gun advocacy group. The NRA, in a letter to Senate
leaders last month, said it "strongly opposes" Murthy for
supporting various proposals aimed at tightening gun
Asked about the effect of the NRA's opposition, Carney
reiterated the administration's strategy shift and said it would
decide "how and when to move forward."
The White House's pause signals potential trouble for
Obama's latest nomination and points to fraying ties between the
president and members of his own party in the Senate, many of
whom are up for re-election in November and want to distance
themselves from the administration.
Republicans are hoping to wrest control of the Senate from
Democrats in November's voting.
Murthy is president of Doctors for America, a group of more
than 16,000 physicians and medical students promoting Obama's
signature healthcare law, also known as Obamacare. An internist
by training, Murthy practices medicine at Brigham and Women's
Hospital at Harvard Medical School.
If approved, he would replace Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak,
who has been acting as the surgeon general since July and
overseeing public health endeavors around the country.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Steve
Holland and Richard Cowan; Editing by James Dalgleish and Peter