By CHEYENNE HASLETT, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Vivek Murthy, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as U.S. Surgeon General, plans to tell Congress on Thursday that his top priority, if confirmed, will be ending the pandemic — which has taken the lives of seven of his own family members in the U.S. and India.
“This is a moment of tremendous suffering for our nation. More than half a million people have lost their lives to COVID-19, including beloved members of my own family,” Murthy will tell Congress, according to a copy of his testimony first obtained by ABC News.
In January, Murthy lost his great uncle, who he was very close with, an aide said. A second relative in the U.S. also died from the coronavirus and five of his family members in India.
As “America’s doctor,” the potential surgeon general would play a central role in crafting the public message on the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 500,000 American lives.
“If confirmed as surgeon general, my highest priority will be to help end this pandemic, work I’ve been doing over the past year with state and local officials, schools and universities, businesses, health care providers, and others,” Murthy is expected to say.
“I have seen first-hand the importance of providing clear, science-based guidance to Americans on how to protect themselves and others,” he will say, echoing Biden’s motto, to lead with science.
For the past year of the pandemic, Murthy has advised many companies on public health measures, including Netflix, Airbnb, Estee Lauder and Carnival, the cruise ship company that had outbreaks on two ships last January and February.
Critics and watchdogs have raised issues with more than $2.5 million Murthy made from speaking at private events and advising private sector companies during the pandemic, while supporters say he has properly recused himself and meets the ethics requirements.
Murthy also advised Biden’s campaign during the early months of the pandemic and was co-chair of Biden’s coronavirus advisory team during the presidential transition.
Murthy has known the president for over a decade, dating back to his first time serving as surgeon general in the Obama administration. He made history then as the youngest appointed U.S. surgeon general and the first of Indian descent.
Back in 2014, Murthy’s confirmation for the role was more fraught than it’s expected to be this time around. At the time, the National Rifle Association lobbied against his nomination because of comments he had made referring to gun violence as a public health problem.
“Murthy’s record of political activism in support of radical gun control measures raises significant concerns about the likelihood he would use the office of surgeon general to further his preexisting campaign against gun ownership,” the NRA wrote on its website in 2014.
On Thursday, the former surgeon general will focus on the need to avoid partisanship, sharing examples of traveling to Alaska and Oklahoma in 2016 to meet with Republican senators and talk about the opioid crisis, telling Congress that he “would welcome the chance to once again work hand in hand with Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle.”
Murthy will also highlight the lessons he learned from his parents, who opened a medical practice in Miami — lessons the Harvard- and Yale-educated doctor has learned from practicing medicine himself.
“I learned to listen deeply to the patient in front of me, to look beyond any labels, and to see that person in their fullest humanity, knowing they were someone’s mother, father, grandparent, child, sibling or friend,” Murthy is expected to say.
Murthy will testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will likely advance his nomination to the Senate floor for a vote in the next few weeks. He is expected to be confirmed, but because Democrats hold a slim majority, Murthy, like all of Biden’s nominees, cannot afford to lose a single Democratic vote without picking up Republican support.
ABC News’ Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.
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