Watch CBSN Live

Bush Names New Health Team

President Bush on Tuesday selected an Arizona trauma surgeon and sheriff's deputy to be surgeon general and a top administrator at Johns Hopkins University to direct the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Richard Carmona of Tucson and Hopkins' Dr. Elias Zerhouni must be confirmed by the Senate before filling the two top health positions.

"These are distinguished physicians who have worked tirelessly to save lives and to improve lives," the president said in an East Room ceremony at the White House.

"They bring exceptional knowledge and skills to these critical jobs and they are absolutely dedicated to improving the health and well-being of all Americans."

The two doctors and their families were at the White House for the ceremony announcing the long-awaited nominations.

Zerhouni said he never dreamt of such a privilege when he and his wife immigrated here from Algeria 27 years ago. Carmona, his voice breaking as he alternated between speaking Spanish and English, called his own nomination the American dream for "a high-school dropout and poor Hispanic kid."

Mr. Bush joked that he almost nixed Carmona's nomination after hearing how the doctor once dangled from a moving helicopter as part of a rescue mission.

"I worried that maybe he wasn't the best guy to educate our Americans about reducing health risks," Mr. Bush teased.

"Army Green Beret, a decorated police officer, a SWAT team member, a nurse, and a physician — Dr. Carmona has redefined the term hands-on medicine."

Zerhouni, who will administer the massive biomedical research programs at NIH, "shares my view that human life is precious and should not be exploited or destroyed for the benefits of others," Mr. Bush said.

Asked if both nominees share Mr. Bush's ethical opposition to human cloning and embryonic stem cell research, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters in advance of the announcement:

"Suffice it to say that these are administration appointees. They serve the president; they serve his policies and I don't think you would expect the president to appoint people who hold wildly different views than he does."

Sen. Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat whose committee oversees health nominees, pledged to hold hearings promptly. He called Zerhouni "a distinguished scientist" and said he looked forward to learning more about Carmona, a surprise pick.

At NIH, the nation's premier biomedical research agency, the top post has been vacant for more than two years.

Mr. Bush has been looking for a surgeon general ever since David Satcher, President Clinton's appointee, announced last year that he would step down when his four-year term ended last month.

Carmona, the doctor-cop, evidently dazzled Mr. Bush's selection team with a resume that reads like a Hollywood script.

"He does look like something out of central casting," said Dr. Allan Hamilton, surgery chairman at the University of Arizona, Carmona's longtime friend and boss.

But, "Rich is not one of those thrill-seekers," Hamilton said. He described a devoted father of three and physical fitness fanatic who, as one-time head of the local hospital for the poor, also advocated better patient care.

Carmona, 52, was born in Harlem. He dropped out of high school, joined the Army and earned a general equivalency diploma. He then became the first member of his family to graduate from college and medical school. Registered as an independent, he gave $500 to the Bush campaign in 1999. His wife, Diane, wrote a separate $500 check to the Bush campaign that year, according to records kept by the Center for Responsive Politics.

In 1992, the doctor grabbed headlines and inspired a made-for-TV-movie by rappelling from a helicopter to rescue a person stranded on a cliff. This and other feats helped him earn one of 10 Top Cop awards from the National Association of Police Organizations in 2000.

In 1999, Carmona happened upon a car accident in Tucson, and stopped to help. Instead, he got into a shootout with one of the drivers.

The man, who had been assaulting a female driver, died, but not before Carmona attempted to mend his fatal wounds. The man turned out to be a suspect in the murder of his own father.

Carmona's scalp was grazed by a bullet, his second wound in the same place. He got the first while fighting in Vietnam as an Army Green Beret.

For the NIH position, Zerhouni, 50, met the administration's twin goals of finding a respected scientist who could live within Mr. Bush's ethical constraints on research involving cloning and embryonic stem cells.

His background is in radiology, and he has chaired the university's radiology department.

The NIH has struggled in the two years without a director since the departure of Harold Varmus, with several top researchers leaving. Six institutes of the NIH institutes need new directors.

The top position at the Food and Drug Administration has been empty for a year.

The National Institutes of Health pays for more than 43,000 biomedical projects in the United States and employ more than 10,000 people. Its budget has been steadily rising over the last several years, with Mr. Bush asking for more than $27 billion for next year.

As part of his duties as surgeon general, Carmona would administer the 5,600-member Public Health Commission Corps, which was deployed to New York and Washington on Sept. 11 and during the subsequent anthrax attacks. A part-time public health professor, Carmona has expertise in emergency preparedness and weapons of mass destruction.

View CBS News In