WASHINGTON – U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams resigned at President-elect Joe Biden’s request on Wednesday, as the incoming president sought to make a symbolic break with his predecessor’s covid-19 response.
“Thank you for the opportunity to serve this great Nation, as this has been the honor of my life,” Adams wrote in a departure note posted to Facebook. ” . . . I hope in 2021 and beyond, we can focus more on what unites us, and rise above what divides us.”
The Washington Post first reported that Biden was planning to ask for Adams’ resignation on Wednesday. Adams, who was nominated by President Donald Trump, was sworn in as surgeon general on Sept. 5, 2017, to serve the office’s standard four-year term, which was set to expire this September.
The anesthesiologist and former Indiana health commissioner – a political independent who crafted a close relationship with then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence – had emerged as a key spokesman for Trump’s coronavirus response, regularly appearing on national TV and using social media to advocate for public health measures such as social distancing. However, Adams’s visibility also made him a target last spring for Democrats, who accused him of defending Trump’s statements.
Biden has nominated Vivek H. Murthy, surgeon general under President Barack Obama and a close adviser of the president-elect, to be the nation’s new surgeon general, but Murthy first needs to undergo Senate confirmation hearings, which have yet to be scheduled.Three people with knowledge of the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it said the incoming Biden administration would choose an acting surgeon general as soon as Wednesday, bypassing Deputy Surgeon General Erica Schwartz, a career civil servant.
Schwartz, a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps who had served as the Department of Health and Human Services’ point person for the transition between the Trump and Biden administrations, is planning to retire as a result of being passed over, the people said.
Reached by The Washington Post, Adams declined to comment. Schwartz did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for Biden referred to Murthy’s pending nomination as surgeon general.
A top Trump administration official told The Post that Schwartz is retiring.
“RADM Erica Schwartz, a career HHS official, served our country with honor and distinction for more than two decades,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, HHS assistant secretary for health. “It is unfortunate that the American people will no longer have her expertise and dedication as we continue to battle the covid-19 pandemic and prepare the Commissioned Corps for 21st- century challenges.”
A person with knowledge of HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s thinking said the outgoing secretary was “extremely disappointed” that Schwartz had been bypassed for the role, given her “hundreds of hours of work” on the transition.
Often referred to as the “nation’s doctor,” the surgeon general has a bully pulpit to call attention to serious public health problems, but limited ability to make policy. He or she oversees the U.S. Public Health Service, more than 6,000 uniformed public health personnel who work in various parts of the federal government.
Some surgeon generals have served across multiple administrations, including David Satcher, who served out a four-year term that began under President Bill Clinton and ended under President George W. Bush.
However, Trump in April 2017 dismissed then-Surgeon General Murthy – an Obama appointee – in the third year of Murthy’s term, drawing the ire of Democrats.
“The Surgeon General must remain independent and free from political pressure,” seven Senate Democrats wrote to the White House in May 2017, after Murthy was abruptly pushed out.