Politics & Government

Holsinger nomination as surgeon general dead, Bunning says

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Jim Bunning, one of Dr. James W. Holsinger Jr.'s staunchest supporters in his bid to become U.S. surgeon general, suggested Tuesday that the physician's quest for the nation's top medical post is at an end.

During a telephone press conference Tuesday, Bunning said he doubts Holsinger's nomination will move forward. Bunning cited the Democratic leadership's blockage of several Bush administration-backed judicial appointments -- a move that has rankled both of Kentucky's senators.

"I gauge it from the handling of other nominations for other positions by the majority party in the U.S. Senate," Bunning said of Holsinger's chances. "They are not moving any positions of consequence. And Dr. Holsinger's is an important position and therefore I suspect that they won't be moving it. Pretty much anyone with controversy is not going to be considered."

Holsinger did not return calls for comment.

Meanwhile, both the White House and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Holsinger's nomination is still alive.

"Senator McConnell continues to believe that Dr. Holsinger is a proven leader who has dedicated his career to improving health education and services in Kentucky and across the nation and that he is an excellent choice for surgeon general," said McConnell spokesman, Robert Steurer.

Holsinger served as Gov. Ernie Fletcher's secretary for health and family services from 2003 through 2005, was a professor and chancellor of the University of Kentucky's medical center for nine years in addition to other academic and administrative medical school posts across the country, and served for 26 years in the Department of Veterans Affairs. He also served for more than 30 years in the U.S. Army Reserve.

He has a master's degree in biblical studies from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore. He obtained his medical degree in 1964 and a doctorate in anatomy in 1968, both from Duke University.

"Dr. Holsinger is a highly respected, well-qualified physician and educator whose nomination has now been pending for nearly 400 days in the Senate," said White House spokesman Blair Jones. "He will make an outstanding surgeon general and we call on the Senate for an up-or-down vote on his nomination."

From the moment his name emerged as a potential U.S. surgeon general, Holsinger's nomination was rife with controversy. Last year, Holsinger faced a firestorm of criticism from gay rights groups, the National Organization for Women, the American Public Health Association and some public health experts for a Methodist church paper he wrote in 1991 titled "Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality," which described same-sex intercourse as incompatible with Christian teaching.

Holsinger distanced himself from the paper during a July Senate hearing, saying the comments don't reflect his current views. However, Senate Democrats refused to move forward with a confirmation until Holsinger completed written responses to questions posed by members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Democrats stayed in session over December's holiday break to prevent President Bush from naming the physician to the post in a recess appointment.

Dr. Steven Galson, a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service, was named acting surgeon general last fall.

The surgeon general's post has been highly politicized in recent years. Days before Holsinger's committee hearing, a former surgeon general, Dr. Richard Carmona, testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the White House prevented him from speaking publicly about stem-cell research and sex education, among other health topics.