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 McConnellProgressive group changes tone on Kaine Trump hits Kaine on TPP: He supports a 'job killer' Clinton maps out first 100 days 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 AyotteKasich doesn't regret skipping convention Top GOP senator: Trump will have little effect on Senate races Hindu-American emerges as Trump mega-donor MORE (N.H.) and Rob PortmanRob PortmanThe Trail 2016: Trump’s big night Portman: Trump has 'potential' to help GOP candidates Kasich doesn't regret skipping convention 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 CornynGOP senators to donors: Stick with us regardless of Trump Hopes dim for mental health deal Overnight Finance: Senate punts on Zika funding | House panel clears final spending bill | Biz groups press Treasury on tax rules | Obama trade rep confident Pacific deal passes this year MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said that he expects Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyTop Dem Senate hopefuls to skip convention Election to shape Supreme Court Why one senator sees Gingrich as Trump's best VP choice 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."