After one of the most extended background checks in recent memory, President Clinton today will at last name Dr. David Satcher, now director of the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to fill the often controversial post of U.S. surgeon-general.
Administration aides said on Thursday that the president will tap the 56-year-old Alabama native for the post, which has been vacant for two-and-a-half years. In an Oval Office ceremony, Clinton is also prepared to name Satcher to be assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate for both posts, Satcher would become the president’s foremost health policy adviser.
Officials, who have combed through Satcher’s academic record and voluminous writings for several months, said they were confident that he will have smoother relations with Congress than Clinton’s first and more flamboyant surgeon-general, Dr. Joycelyn Elders.
Elders was fired in December of 1994 for her public musings on legalized drugs and explicit sex education in schools.
Clinton later tried to replace her with Dr. Henry Foster, a Tennessee physician, whose nomination got snagged in a debate over the number of abortions he had performed. When a Senate filibuster blocked the vote, Foster withdrew his nomination.
Administration officials declined to discuss Satcher’s views on abortion, but they stressed that he has focused on “mainstream” medical issues. A biography provided by the White House stressed his work in child immunization and his physical fitness, in addition to a long list of awards for his public health work.
Omitted from the two-page summary was Satcher’s extensive work on AIDS, an important part of his work at the CDC.
The anticipation of Satcher’s nomination has already stirred some criticism from conservatives who object to his views on needle-exchanges for drug addicts as a method for preventing the spread of AIDS.
The courtly mannered Satcher, who grew up poor on a farm outside of Anniston, Ala., decided as a child to become a doctor. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, at a White House ceremony earlier this year, praised Satcher as one of the CDC’s “immunizations heroes” and noted that “his own battle with childhood whooping cough inspired him to become a distinguished scientist, physician and public health leader.”
A graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, he earned his medical degree and a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
During his career in medical academics he was named president of historic MeHarry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., in 1982. Clinton appointed him to be the first black director of the CDC in 1993.