In accepting Rep. Tom Marino’s request to withdraw his nomination to become the administration’s drug czar, President Trump tweeted that the Republican representative from Pennsylvania was “a fine congressman.”
A typical congressman might be a more accurate description. Too many members of Congress today seem more motivated by special interests that spend lavish sums to open legislators’ minds than they are concerned with the best interests of their constituents.
An investigation by 60 Minutes and the Washington Post linked nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions Marino received from the pharmaceutical industry to his sponsorship of legislation that has made the Drug Enforcement Administration’s job more difficult.
Marino denied any quid pro quo but quit his quest to become Trump’s head of the DEA. In stepping back, the congressman from Lycoming County simply accepted reality. Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), whose state has been rocked by the opioid crisis, said the Senate would confirm Marino’s nomination “over my dead body.”
Marino’s bill, which became law in April 2016, raised the bar from “imminent danger” to “immediate threat” for the DEA to stop suspicious shipments from drug companies that it suspected would end up in the hands of criminal enterprises.
Marino had spent years trying to get versions of his bill passed. The successful version reportedly was written by a former DEA lawyer who had taken a revolving-door job with the drug industry and testified in favor of the legislation.
In his zeal to get his bill passed, Marino lashed out at Joseph T. Rannazzisi, head of the DEA office that monitors doctors, pharmacies, drugmakers, and distributors. Rannazzisi subsequently retired, saying Marino’s bill made it difficult to stop drug companies from shipping unusually large volumes of opioids to customers across the country.
“The one thing I wanted to do, the one thing that I just thought would have the most impact, is to lock up, arrest one of these corporate officers,” Rannazzisi told 60 Minutes. “If you make that arrest, then everybody sits up and takes notice because three-piece-suit guys just don’t do well in prison. They don’t.”
Gov. Christie, who heads Trump’s opioids commission, said he was disappointed when Congress passed Marino’s bill and President Barack Obama signed it. “Looks like the fix was in when you have something like that,” said Christie.
But as Christie pointed out, no DEA chief alone can get this country to kick its narcotics habit. Americans use more than 85 percent of the opioids consumed in the world, including fentanyl from China. As a result, drug overdoses are killing people at a faster rate than the HIV epidemic did at its peak.
Trump is expected to formally declare the opioid crisis a national emergency next week. Everyone who has seen sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers fall victim to addiction hopes this isn’t another declaration of “war” that leads to surrender.
That will be up to Trump. His nomination of Marino, a longtime beneficiary of Big Pharma, suggested that a businessman more accustomed to corporate culture must try harder to see the world through lenses worn by the rest of America.