POLITICS
10/23/2014 04:04 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2014

Republican Congressman Is Unaware There Is No Surgeon General To Head Ebola Response

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) says Ron Klain is "off to a bad start" in his new role as the president's Ebola response coordinator, and that the U.S. Surgeon General should be the one leading the effort. But what Chaffetz doesn't seem to realize is that there hasn't been a surgeon general for more than a year.

“Why not have the surgeon general head this up?" Chaffetz asked in a Wednesday appearance on Fox News. "I think that’s a very legitimate question. At least you have somebody who has a medical background whose been confirmed by the United States Senate.”

“It begs the question, what does the surgeon general do?" he added. "Why aren’t we empowering that person?”

President Barack Obama nominated Dr. Vivek Murthy to serve as the nation's top doctor in late 2013, but his nomination has stalled in the Senate ever since. The reason? The National Rifle Association has been pressuring Republicans and conservative Democrats to oppose him over his positions on gun control. Murthy has advocated for an assault weapons ban, and in 2012, he tweeted that gun violence is "a health care issue." That didn't sit well with the NRA's chief.

"Simply put, confirmation of Dr. Murthy is a prescription for disaster for America's gun owners," Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's legislative arm, wrote to Senate leaders in February.

The result is the country is now dealing with cases of Ebola without a surgeon general at the top, providing public education and guidance on the situation. The last surgeon general, Regina Benjamin, left the post in July 2013. Boris Lushniak has been the acting surgeon general ever since.

Murthy otherwise has solid credentials for the job. A physician at a top Boston hospital and a teacher at Harvard Medical School, he cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in February with the backing of all Democrats and one Republican. He would be the first Indian-American surgeon general, if confirmed, and he's supported by more than 50 organizations in the health and wellness community, per the White House.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding an Ebola hearing Friday and invited Klain to testify, but the White House says he won't be attending since he just started his new job on Wednesday.

Watch Chaffetz on Fox News above.

UPDATE: 6:09 p.m. -- Chaffetz told The Huffington Post that he was not saying that the non-existent surgeon general should be in charge of the Ebola response, but rather that the Office of the Surgeon General should be.

"Well I do know there's an acting surgeon general, I understand that. The surgeon general is also an office. It's the Office of the Surgeon General. I know there's some confusion there, but I don't think I was confused," Chaffetz said.

"I question why we would have a person that was put forward as a czar, when you do have an acting surgeon general," he added. "The point is the person the president has appointed doesn't feel prepared to come before Congress."

HuffPost

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