Dick Polman, 12/16/2014 [Archive]

Thank Ted Cruz for the Surgeon General the NRA Hates

By Dick Polman

For 500 days, President Obama's Surgeon General nominee had languished in limbo, and with Republicans set to take over, it appeared that well-credentialed Dr. Vivek Murthy would never get confirmed.

Until Ted Cruz came to the rescue!

Cruz guy is so addicted to grandstanding that he has no clue how to best help his own party. Sometimes it's wisest to just stand down and shut up, but that's not how he rolls. The events of this past weekend show us what can happen when a showhorse runs amok.

Let's first recap the facts about Murthy. Obama's choice for the nation's top doc is a Yale-educated internist and Harvard Med School teacher. He'd been endorsed by the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Family Physicians, and the American Hospital Association. Plus, he has extensive experience in emergency rooms, where he has seen, first-hand, the damage of gun violence. Which is why he has said, "Guns are a health care issue."

But statements like that angered the NRA, so for 500 days, the group's attitude basically froze the Senate. Virtually all Republicans, in obeisance to their gun-loving masters, swore their undying opposition to Murthy. And some of the red-state Democrats lost their spines, fearing the wrath of fun-loving voters back home.

Harry Reid, mindful of the perilous math, feared putting Murthy to a vote, and with the lame-duck Democratic Senate dwindling to its final days, Murthy's bid seemed destined to die from inaction.

In fact, Reid had a deal with Mitch McConnell to simply let the Senate clock run over the weekend without actually holding a session. Everyone would meet Monday to OK the $1-trlllion spending bill that keeps the government lights on, then bail for their holiday exits. There would've been no time to schedule Monday evening floor votes for Murthy, or other pending Obama nominees, the last time there would be a maximum number of Democrats in attendance.

Enter Ted Cruz and his tea-party pal, Mike Lee of Utah. Thanks to their parliamentary ineptitude, they saved the day for Murthy.

They hate the Obama executive order that protects some illegal immigrants from deportation. They felt that the Senate spending bill should have some language condemning Obama's order. Republican leaders don't like Obama's order either, but they recognized that the smart move was to punt on that issue until early 2015, when they'd have majority clout. Cruz and Lee said nah, let's do something symbolic right now.

So they kept their Senate colleagues in session on a Saturday. They tried to defund Obama's anti-deportation order, but of course they didn't have the votes. Then they tried for a "point of order," a vote to condemn Obama's order as unconstitutional. They bombed again, by a vote of 22 to 74.

But the upshot of all this weekend work is that Reid and the Democrats found themselves with ample time to get their ducks in a row for Murthy (file cloture on the nomination, line up the Democratic votes, etc.) - and schedule a floor vote for Monday afternoon. Presto. Murthy got the job, 51 to 43.

There's no need for me to get snarky about Cruz's doltish handiwork, because furious Republicans are saying it better than I ever can. A small sampling:

Senator Kelly Ayotte denounced Cruz's weekend maneuver as "ridiculous." Senator Jeff Flake called it "counterproductive." A Republican aide told Slate: "At some point, Cruz is going to have to stop undermining conservative victories for the sake of getting more press." Commentator Matt Lewis in the conservative Daily Caller compared Cruz and Lee to Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell (insults don't get harsher than that), and, referring to Cruz, he asked, "should we make a hero of the guy who wants to win the football game so much he accidentally scores a touchdown for the opposing team?"

So thanks, Ted! Vivek Murthy owes you a holiday basket.


Copyright 2014 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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