President Trump’s pick to be White House drug czar, Representative Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, withdrew his name from consideration on Tuesday following the publication of a critical news report. It detailed how a law he wrote at the behest of pharmaceutical distributors has made it harder for the federal government to combat the opioid epidemic.
Trump announced Marino’s withdrawal on Twitter, calling him “a fine man and a great congressman!” His exit seemed likely after the president repeatedly declined to give him a vote of confidence during a press conference on Monday.
The fourth-term Republican congressman had been at the center of a joint investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” that seemed to have all the elements of the D.C. “swamp” culture Trump has pledged to drain. Former top officials at the Drug Enforcement Administration alleged that a law Congress wrote and passed without significant public debate effectively stripped the agency of its power to go after opioid distributors who turned a blind eye to suspicious sales, which poured millions of prescription pain pills into U.S. cities and towns.
The whistleblowers, led by the former head of the agency’s Office of Diversion Control, pinned much of the blame on ex-DEA officials who passed through the Beltway’s infamous “revolving door” and became highly-paid industry lobbyists. But it was Marino, a former prosecutor, who introduced and shepherded to passage the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which raised the standard for the DEA to be able to suspend shady drug shipments. The Post and “60 Minutes” reported that the text of the bill was actually written by a former senior lawyer at the DEA, and Marino overcame objections from the agency and the Justice Department to get a version of the legislation passed by Congress and signed into law last year by former President Barack Obama. When reporters tried to interview Marino in person for the story, his office called the Capitol Police.
This is the second time Marino has pulled out of consideration to be the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Trump had been weighing his nomination in the spring before Marino cited a “critical family illness” in withdrawing his name. But with the job still unfilled months later, the White House announced in early September that Marino would indeed be the president’s nominee. As Trump noted on Monday, Marino had been one of the earliest congressional supporters of his campaign.
On Monday, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he would introduce legislation to repeal the law that Marino got passed. But that may not be so easy: Later in the day, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah delivered a floor speech defending the measure and accusing the Post and “60 Minutes” of airing a “one-sided” account of its enactment. Marino, who has not spoken publicly about the report, will remain in Congress.