WASHINGTON -- Rep. Tom Marino, President Donald Trump's nominee to be the nation's drug czar, has withdrawn from consideration after reports that he played a key role in weakening the federal government's authority to stop companies from distributing opioids.
"He didn't want to have even the perception of a conflict of interest with drug companies or, frankly, insurance companies," Trump told Fox News Radio in an interview Tuesday, shortly after breaking the news on Twitter.
The announcement follows reports by The Washington Post and CBS News that detailed the Pennsylvania lawmaker's involvement in crafting a 2016 law, signed by President Barack Obama, that weakened the Drug Enforcement Administration's authority to curb opioid distribution.
It also comes amid growing pressure on Trump to fulfill his pledge to declare the nation's opioid epidemic a "national emergency," as a commission he's convened on the subject has urged him to do. Trump told reporters Monday that he would be making the declaration official next week.
Interviewed by Fox News Radio's Brian Kilmeade, Trump said Marino "felt compelled" to step down from the job.
"He feels very strongly about the opioid problem and the drug problem and Tom Marino said, 'Look, I'll take a pass,'" Trump added. Trump did not say when he and the congressman spoke. Marino could not immediately be reached Tuesday for comment.
Trump had told reporters during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden on Monday that he would look "very closely" at the reports about Marino, adding, "If I think it's 1 percent negative to doing what we want to do, I will make a change."
Democrats had called on Trump to withdraw the nomination and hailed the news, with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer saying it was the "right decision."
"We need a drug czar who has seen these devastating effects and who is passionate about ending this opioid epidemic," said Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, whose home state of West Virginia has been among the hardest-hit by the opioid epidemic.
Manchin had scolded the Obama administration for failing to "sound the alarm on how harmful that bill would be for our efforts to effectively fight the opioid epidemic," which kills an estimated 142 people a day nationwide.
The Post reported Sunday that the drug industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, including Marino, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns. The major drug distributors prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to the industry-friendly law, which undermined efforts to restrict the flow of pain pills that have led to tens of thousands of deaths.
The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market.
Top Obama administration officials have declined to discuss how the bill came to pass.
Michael Botticelli, who led the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy at the time, said neither the Justice Department nor the DEA objected to the bill, removing a major obstacle to the president's approval.
"We deferred to DEA, as is common practice," he said.
The bill also was reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
"Neither the DEA nor the Justice Department informed OMB about the policy change in the bill," a former senior budget office official with knowledge of the issue said recently. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of internal White House deliberations.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Monday that she will introduce legislation to repeal the 2016 law.
A White House commission convened by Trump and led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has called on Trump to declare a national emergency to help deal with the growing opioid crisis. An initial report from the commission in July noted that the approximate 142 deaths each day from drug overdoses means the death toll is "equal to September 11th every three weeks."
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also announced Tuesday that a pair of Chinese nationals had been indicted on charges that they manufactured tons of fentanyl and other powerful narcotics that were then peddled in the United States, killing at least four people and seriously injuring five others.
Information for this article was contributed by Darlene Superville, Matthew Daly, Sadie Gurman and Jill Colvin of The Associated Press; and by Anne Gearan, Lenny Bernstein, Scott Higham and Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post.
In this Sept. 23, 2011 file photo, Rep. Thomas Marino, R-Pa., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.
A Section on 10/18/2017
Print Headline: Drug czar nominee pulls his name out