Bush-Era Surgeon General Critiques Trump’s Firing of Successor

Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaks at a news conference about the Zika virus last summer in Orlando, Fla. Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaks at a news conference about the Zika virus last summer in Orlando, Fla. AP Photo/John Raoux

Last Friday’s dismissal of Surgeon General Vivek Murthy by the Trump administration halfway through his term brought a letter of protest from a predecessor.

Richard Carmona, who held the job under President George W. Bush from 2002-2006, published a letter to the editor in Thursday’s Washington Post complaining the office has been politicized over the years.

“Staff at the office contacted me for advice after the new president sent a request for letters of resignation from all political appointees from the previous administration,” Carmona wrote. “I recommended that Mr. Murthy do as instructed because this is standard practice between administrations. I opined that if he did not, the president would prevail.”

The firing “would not have happened if bipartisan political actions over many years had not diminished the office by nominating civilian, non-uniformed service members who at times were not qualified nor had earned the rank of admiral and title of surgeon general,” Carmona wrote.

He called for federal leaders to “restore the integrity” of the office by ensuring that only career officers are considered.

Murthy, a Boston-based physician and founder of health nonprofits, was tapped for the job by President Obama in 2014. Murthy supported the Affordable Care Act and offended gun-rights advocates by arguing that gun violence was a public health issue.

His termination was announced April 21 in a Health and Human Services Department statement, saying he “was asked to resign from his duties as Surgeon General after assisting in a smooth transition into the new Trump administration.”

Murthy was replaced temporarily by his deputy, Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams, a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Public Health Service, deputy surgeon general and chief nurse officer from 2013-16. Murthy will continue to serve as a member of the Commissioned Corps.

Carmona, now a health charity executive in Tucson, was an unsuccessful Democratic Senate candidate in Arizona in 2012.

After leaving the Bush administration, he disclosed in congressional testimony that Bush officials had tried to alter his office’s reports for political reasons. White House officials, he said, prevented him from speaking on such issues as stem-cell research, contraception and sex education.

As the New York Times reported in 2007, he was also ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches and to support Republican candidates.

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