Trump drug czar nominee withdraws

Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) is withdrawing his name from consideration as the nation's drug czar, President Trump announced Tuesday. 

"Rep.Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar. Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!" Trump tweeted.

The withdrawal followed a Washington Post-"60 Minutes" joint investigation that highlighted his support for legislation that weakened the government's ability to go after drug companies, something critics say has contributed to the nation's opioid crisis.

The DEA, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services don't have Senate-confirmed heads of their agencies, and all three play a role in the federal response to the opioid epidemic.

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Marino was a leader in passing the legislation last year that made it tougher for the Drug Enforcement Administration to stop suspicious shipments of prescription drugs. The pharmaceutical industry heavily lobbied for the bill and showered Marino and other lawmakers with campaign contributions.

Marino — an early supporter of President Trump's campaign — was nominated to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy in early September with little public fanfare, but the joint Washington Post-"60 Minutes" investigation was sure to have made the confirmation process much harder. 

A number of senators, including a key centrist, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Wealthy outsiders threaten to shake up GOP Senate primaries MORE (D-W.Va.), on Monday had called for the president to withdraw his nomination.

On Monday, Trump didn’t offer a full-throated endorsement of his nominee and said he would be taking the new reports “very seriously.”

“We’re going to be looking into Tom,” Trump said.

He also said he would likely officially declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency next week. It's unclear what new authorities that would entail, as the move would be unprecedented for drug abuse.

When asked if Marino’s sponsorship of the law undermined Trump’s confidence in his nominee, the president said, “Well, he’s a good man. I have not spoken to him, but I will speak to him and I’ll make that determination. And if I think it’s 1 percent negative to doing what we want to do, I will make a change, yes.”

Marino's confirmation would have put GOP senators, particularly those from states hit hard by the opioid epidemic, in a tough spot. They would have had to choose between opposing Trump or supporting a nominee who was facing accusations that he helped hamper the effort to fight the opioid epidemic.

According to the investigative report, Marino was a chief advocate of the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, passed in 2016, that reportedly undermined the DEA’s effort to stop the flow of prescription painkillers — drugs that have contributed heavily to the opioid epidemic.

The legislation passed in both the House and Senate without objection, and President Obama signed it into law in April 2016.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Utah governor calls Bannon a 'bigot' after attacks on Romney MORE (R-Utah) had come to the defense of Marino and took to the Senate floor Monday to “set the record straight.” Hatch — who sponsored the legislation in the Senate — said he negotiated the bill with the DEA.

“Let’s be clear that DEA and DOJ themselves generated the language that critics now claim is so problematic,” Hatch said, adding the DEA and Justice Department could have stopped the bill at any time.

“Senator Hatch does not believe one flawed report should derail a nominee who has a long history of fighting illegal drug use and of helping individuals with chronic conditions obtain treatment,” Hatch’s spokesman, Matt Whitlock, wrote in an email on Monday. “The Senator looks forward to discussing these important issues with Representative Marino further in his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

But some advocacy organizations were calling on their members to oppose the nomination. And Marino was facing a public backlash from Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAmerica isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Schumer celebrates New York Giants firing head coach: ‘About time’ GOP should reject the left's pessimism and the deficit trigger MORE (D-N.Y.) said on Tuesday that Marino’s nomination showed the Trump administration ”talks the talk, but refuses to walk the walk” on the opioid crisis.

“The opioid crisis demands that the next drug czar is solely focused on getting communities across the country the help they desperately need,” he said in a statement. “I hope the Trump administration nominates someone that fits the bill.”

Manchin — whose state of West Virginia is grappling with one of the worst opioid epidemics in the country — sent a letter to Trump Monday urging him to withdraw Marino’s nomination.

“The legislation that Congressman Marino pushed has tied the hands of the DEA in their efforts to enforce our nation’s laws and ensure that these wholesalers and other industry actors alert authorities to these suspicious orders instead of simply profiting from them,” Manchin wrote in the letter.

“His advocacy for this legislation demonstrates that Congressman Marino either does not fully understand the scope and devastation of this epidemic or ties to industry overrode those concerns. Either option leaves him unfit to serve as the head of the ONDCP.”

West Virginia’s other senator, Republican Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoSenate women: Rules on harassment must change Congress, here's a CO2-smart tax fix to protect, create jobs Women, Dems leading sexual harassment discussion in Congress: analysis MORE, also expressed doubts, saying in an emailed statement Monday that Marino would need "to address the accusations that were raised" in the report. 

Jordain Carney contributed to this report, which was updated at 10:05 a.m.