Why Democrats Are Running Scared From the NRA Over the Next Surgeon General

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
March 18 2014 7:28 PM

Friendly Fire

How killing the filibuster has actually made it harder for red-state Democrats to vote for their own.

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Feb. 26: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul sends Majority Leader Harry Reid a letter announcing his intention to put a hold on the Murthy nomination. “In his efforts to curtail Second Amendment rights, Dr. Murthy has continually referred to guns as a public health issue on par with heart disease and has diminished the role of mental health in gun violence,” writes Paul. “As a physician, I am deeply concerned that he has advocated that doctors use their position of trust to ask patients, including minors, details about gun ownership in the home.”

Reid’s office hardly tries to suppress the chortle. “As the sun rises in the East,” says Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson, “Sen. Paul has placed yet another hold on yet another qualified nominee.”

On the same day, the NRA sends a letter to Reid and Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell officially opposing the nomination.

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Feb. 27: The HELP committee moves Murthy’s nomination to the full Senate on a 12-9, party-line vote.

March 5-6: Eight Democrats join every Senate Republican in voting down the nomination of Debo Adegbile. The next day, in an atypically dramatic speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey tells the story of how conservatives built on the effort of the Fraternal Order of Police and took down Adegbile. Democrats who didn’t join the GOP, like New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, take press release mortar fire from Republicans and local press.

March 11-12: At the start of the Senate’s last week before a short recess, Fox News starts covering the Murthy nomination. “Do you want a partisan physician?” asks Elisabeth Hasselbeck, rhetorically. Megyn Kelly’s prime-time show books Chris Cox, the NRA executive who wrote the no-Murthy letter, where he claims the nominee “is hell-bent on treating a constitutional freedom like a disease.”

March 14: Toomey, the co-author of the 2013 gun control amendment that the NRA opposed, comes out against the Murthy nomination. “Dr. Murthy, as the president of a partisan political organization, has been an active promoter of Obamacare,” he explains. “Dr. Murthy also has advocated for policies that would erode our important Second Amendment rights.” Later that day, the New York Times runs ahead of the curve and reports that the Senate is “balking” at a vote on Murthy, with “as many as 10 Democrats” refusing to vote aye.

That piece ran before senators scrambled for their home states. That’s made it easier for Democrats to dodge questions (pesky reporters can’t collar them in the Capitol) and wait for the White House to use the media and other channels to resuscitate the nomination. While they wait, they convince Republicans that they are white-knuckle panicked about losing the Senate this year—and, as Democrats tend to do, they confuse the trappings of panic for the sort of moderation that voters like.

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