10 Unsuccessful Senate Confirmations


Dr. Henry Foster

Dr. Henry Foster during his Senate confirmation hearings.
Dr. Henry Foster during his Senate confirmation hearings.
Luke Farazza/AFP/Getty Images

In 1994, President Bill Clinton asked his surgeon general, Dr. Joycelyn Elders to resign. Elders, a controversial figure among conservatives for her views on hot topics like drugs and abortion, expended her last bit of political capital on her response to a question about masturbation. Elders favored teaching it in schools: "We have tried ignorance for a very long time, and it's time we try education," she said [source: Jet].

Clinton nominee as Elders' successor was Dr. Henry Foster, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Tennessee. Foster became the subject of intense senatorial debate within the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee (the group responsible for confirming surgeons general) over his past as a physician. Foster told the committee that he'd performed 39 abortions during his career, which left a bad taste in the mouths of pro-life Senate conservatives, led by Kansas senator Robert Dole.

Dole said the conservatives took exception at Clinton's efforts at painting "pro-life supporters as extremists" in an effort to garner support for Elders' nomination by turning the tables on the opposition [source: Jehl]. The United States ultimately went without a surgeon general for four years, until 1998, when the Senate confirmed Dr. David Satcher.