(Updates with source confirmation)
WASHINGTON, Jan 6 (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama has asked neurosurgeon and CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta to be U.S. surgeon general, a senior Democrat said on Tuesday.
Gupta has been "the Obama team’s first choice" for the job, which would make the TV personality America’s top doctor, said the Democrat who is familiar with efforts by Obama to staff his pending administration.
The Washington Post’s online service, washingtonpost.com, first reported that Gupta had been offered the job, traditionally the U.S. top spokesman on matters of public health.
Gupta has told Obama administration officials he wants the job and is undergoing final checks, the Post said, citing two sources with knowledge of the situation. The Post and CNN said Gupta has declined comment on the matter.
Gupta had a two-hour meeting with Obama in Chicago in November, the Post said, and later met former Sen. Tom Daschle, who has been tapped to lead the administration’s efforts to reform health care as Health and Human Services Secretary.
Obama told Gupta he could be the highest-profile surgeon general in history and would have an expanded role in giving healthcare policy advice, the Post said.
Gupta served in the 1990s as a White House fellow, where he was a special adviser to Hillary Clinton, writing speeches and helping her formulate policies.
In addition to his work at CNN, Gupta is a practicing neurosurgeon and professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Emory University Hospital and Grady Memorial Hospital.
The surgeon general leads the 6,000-member commissioned corps of the U.S. Public Health Service and is the top federal government spokesman on matters of public health.
Surgeon generals in the past have used the office as a bully pulpit to urge Americans to give up smoking, battle AIDS and tackle other healthcare concerns.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry issued a landmark report arguing the dangers of smoking in 1964, but Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the first black surgeon general, was fired by then-president Bill Clinton in 1994 for publicly mulling the possibility of teaching masturbation skills to children to keep them from having sex. (Reporting by David Alexander, Editing by Maggie Fox and Jackie Frank)