WASHINGTON — The Bush administration attempted to politicize the nation's health policy and, when former Surgeon General Richard Carmona refused to follow orders, he was repeatedly muzzled and marginalized, according to Carmona's testimony Tuesday.
Carmona, along with former surgeons general C. Everett Koop and David Satcher, told the House Oversight committee that Bush's efforts went well beyond the political friction experienced between "the nation's doctor" and previous administrations, both Republican and Democratic.
"We have never seen it as partisan, as malicious, as vindictive, as hostile as you have it today," Carmona said he was told by his predecessors.
The hearing comes two days before a Senate committee is to take up Bush's nominee for a replacement, Dr. James Holsinger of the University of Kentucky.
House Oversight chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, said at the outset that Tuesday's hearing would not address Holsinger's credentials but would focus on the politicization of the office, which Waxman said is "in crisis."
The hearing raised serious questions about what Holsinger would face if he is confirmed - and what he would be expected to do.
Carmona said Tuesday that senior administration officials and political appointees vetted and censored his speeches, would not let him speak freely with reporters, attempted to insert political phrases and candidates' names, tried to get him to appear in uniform - Carmona was a vice admiral - at political events, and told him to follow administration policy instead of science.
He said he also was called to mandatory "brown-bags" with administration officials that he said "were really more political pep rallies." Karl Rove, President Bush's deputy chief of staff, attended at least one meeting where candidates and Republican political agenda were discussed. Carmona said he stopped going.
He said that, from the beginning, Bush officials blocked reports or Carmona's input on everything from emergency preparedness to mental health.
On stem-cell research, an early Bush administration issue, Carmona offered to bring his scientific expertise to the debate. "I was blocked at every turn, told to stand down, that the decision had already been made. It was removed from my speeches," Carmona said.
On a controversial contraceptive known as Plan B, Carmona said he was told "there is already a policy in place, that they only wanted to `preach' abstinence, despite what the science says."