YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Clinton Nominates CDC Chief to 2 Health Posts

Appointment: David Satcher's confirmation chances to be surgeon general, assistant health secretary appear good.


WASHINGTON — Nearly three years after firing the flamboyant Dr. Joycelyn Elders from the nation's most visible health job, President Clinton on Friday named Dr. David Satcher to the twin posts of surgeon general and assistant secretary for health.

"In part because of the inspiration of his family doctor, David Satcher is uniquely qualified to be America's family doctor," Clinton said in announcing the nomination of the current director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who also has strong links to Southern California.

Clinton's personal reference was to Satcher's near-fatal bout with whooping cough at age 2, an experience that inspired him to study medicine and then to practice with a special emphasis on the health needs of underserved populations.

Satcher, one of nine children born to self-taught farmers, was saved by the only African American physician in his community--and the only doctor willing to travel to the family's home in rural Anniston, Ala., to treat the dying child.

Clinton praised Satcher, 56, as "a mainstream physician with a talent for leadership." As CDC director, Clinton said, Satcher has "helped to lead our fight to improve the safety of our food, to wipe out the scourge of emerging infectious disease, to expand access to vital cancer screening."

Clinton also singled out Satcher's leadership in the administration's child immunization initiative, which has increased use of vaccinations to the highest level ever and reduced cases of vaccine-preventable childhood diseases to a record low.

The president added that he hopes Satcher will lead the administration's war against teenage smoking.

Satcher would be the first to hold the dual positions of surgeon general and assistant secretary of health since Dr. Julius B. Richmond during the administration of President Carter.

Although the surgeon general's job has a high public profile, it has a small budget and staff and no decision-making powers. In contrast, the assistant health secretary serves as a senior advisor to the secretary of Health and Human Services, with considerable policy input.

The soft-spoken Satcher is regarded as thoughtful and deliberate, a sharp departure from Elders' image. She was dismissed for making what were viewed by many as inappropriate public comments about such issues as masturbation, abortion and legalization of drugs.

Clinton initially sought to replace Elders with Dr. Henry W. Foster Jr., a former obstetrician, but the nomination foundered after Foster's record on abortions became an issue. Until recently, Dr. Audrey F. Manley served as acting surgeon general.

Satcher and Foster--who are close friends--share many views about health policy. But Satcher's professional history and style are considered less likely to raise hackles on Capitol Hill.

Satcher was confirmed by the Senate for the CDC post. And White House officials said they have worked to ensure that his coming confirmation process will be free of the controversy that dogged Elders and Foster.

"We have consulted closely on [Capitol Hill] to take some temperature readings," said White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry. "We are expecting a very enthusiastic and favorable response."

Beginning in the 1970s, Satcher spent the early part of his medical career in Los Angeles. He served as interim dean at the Charles R. Drew Postgraduate Medical School and chaired its family medicine department. While at Drew, he created an innovative program in which medical students studied for two years at the UCLA School of Medicine and two years at Drew, where they then provided medical care to Watts residents.

He also worked at the Martin Luther King Jr. General Hospital, directed the King-Drew Sickle Cell Center and taught at UCLA.

Satcher received his undergraduate degree in 1963 from Morehouse College, and in 1970 became the first African American to earn simultaneously a medical and doctoral degree at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Before becoming CDC director in 1993, Satcher served as president of Nashville's Meharry Medical College for 10 years, where he challenged establishment academia to ensure that African American students had the same educational opportunities as whites.

Satcher and his wife, Nola, a poet, have four children.

At Friday's Oval Office ceremony, where he was joined by his family, Satcher promised to offer the nation "plain, old-fashioned straight talk" about health.

"Whether we're talking about smoking or poor diets, I want to send messages of good health to our cities and our suburbs, our barrios and reservations and even our prisons," he said.

The nomination generated some criticism. "He's another bland bureaucrat," said Steve Michael, spokesman for the AIDS activist group ACT UP. "He won't use this as a bully pulpit the way C. Everett Koop [surgeon general under President Reagan] or Joycelyn Elders used it. That's the kind of person we need."

But as White House aides predicted, initial reaction from Capitol Hill was favorable.

Sen. James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, praised Satcher's "distinguished professional record" and promised to act quickly on the nomination.

Satcher's fellow Tennessean, Republican Sen. Bill Frist, the Senate's only physician, called Satcher "a man of scientific integrity" and predicted that he would "have absolutely no problem" being confirmed.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), noting key GOP support, described Satcher's confirmation chances as "quite good . . . given his reputation [and] the caliber of this nomination."

Times staff writer Edwin Chen contributed to this story.

Los Angeles Times Articles