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The Senate's Republican leadership is eyeing a path forward to tackle drug addiction as the issue comes under increasing scrutiny in the 2016 election.
"We had a significant discussion for quite a period of time in the Republican conference today on the opioid-heroin epidemic that's sweeping the country," Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThough flawed, complex Medicaid block grants have fighting chance Sanders: 'If you don't have the guts to face your constituents,' you shouldn't be in Congress McConnell: Trump's speech should be 'tweet free' MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters.
McConnell added that senators are "anxious" to see what legislation comes out of the Judiciary Committee and that he's hopeful lawmakers will be able to get legislation passed this year despite a shortened schedule.
The discussion came after Republican Sens. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteLewandowski saw no evidence of voter fraud in New Hampshire NH governor 'not aware’ of major voter fraud Former NH AG: 'Allegations of voter fraud in NH are baseless' MORE (N.H.) and Rob PortmanRob PortmanConquering Trump returns to conservative summit ObamaCare fix hinges on Medicaid clash in Senate A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (Ohio), who are both facing tough reelection battles in blue-leaning states, as well as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), testified before the committee on Wednesday morning.
Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn: Border wall 'makes absolutely no sense' in some areas Ryan on border: ‘We will get this done’ Ryan tours Mexican border on horseback MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said that he expects Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP senator grilled over DeVos vote during town hall Big Pharma must address high drug prices ObamaCare fix hinges on Medicaid clash in Senate MORE (R-Iowa) will mark up legislation soon on the issue.
The moves in Congress could give Portman and Ayotte a local issue to focus on as they fight to keep their seats, providing distance from the divided presidential field.
Cornyn added that Ayotte and Portman appeared before their colleagues because of the "ongoing pandemic really occurring in their states and other parts of the country" on prescription drug and heroin abuse.
Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) quickly pushed back on McConnell's comments, suggesting it would be a "shame" if lawmakers waited until the end of the year to try to pass legislation.
"We shouldn't have a target for the end of the year. We should have a target as soon as possible," he told reporters.
While Cornyn linked drug addiction to mental health by saying that the criminal justice system isn't "well suited" to handle either, he cautioned against tying the opioid push to his mental health legislation.
"I'm not sure to what extent that makes sense," he told reporters. "You don't want to necessairly burden a piece of legislation with a lot of other provisions that are going to bog it down."