The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

House Republican quits in first resignation of the new Congress

The most recent Congress, which wrapped up two weeks ago, featured a surprisingly large number of resignations. Al told, 12 House members and two senators stepped down from Capitol Hill before the end of their respective terms.

It’s impossible to say whether we’ll see anything comparable in the new Congress, though the resignation list already has a very early entry.

Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino announced Thursday he would be resigning from Congress.

The Republican lawmaker, who represents the 12th District in northeast and central Pennsylvania, said he will be leaving his post Jan. 23 for a job in the private sector.

Marino has served in the House since 2011 and was just re-elected to his fifth term.

There’s some ambiguity as to what prompted the Pennsylvania Republican to quit just two weeks into his new term, and his official press statement only said that he’s taken a position “in the private sector.”

State officials will now organize a special election to fill the vacancy, and the seat is expected to safely remain in the GOP’s hands: Donald Trump won Pennsylvania’s 12th by 36 points in his race, and this is one of the “reddest” districts in the northeast.

But one of the things that makes Marino’s resignation of particular interest is that he was supposed to give up his House seat for an entirely different reason.

Two years ago, Trump asked the Republican congressman to join his administration as the nation’s “drug czar,” which prompted renewed scrutiny of Marino’s record on the issue.

That was not good news for the lawmaker. The Washington Post published an amazing piece in October 2017 explaining that in 2016, Congress “effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets.” The point of the measure was to “weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market.”

And leading the way on the effort was Tom Marino, who championed the controversial legislation, which seems tough to defend.

For years, some drug distributors were fined for repeatedly ignoring warnings from the DEA to shut down suspicious sales of hundreds of millions of pills, while they racked up billions of dollars in sales.

The new law makes it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies, according to internal agency and Justice Department documents and an independent assessment by the DEA’s chief administrative law judge in a soon-to-be-published law review article. That powerful tool had allowed the agency to immediately prevent drugs from reaching the street.

As the piece explained, the nation’s major drug distributors hired a former DEA insider to help formulate a strategy, and then invested in an ambitious lobbying campaign, which included at least $1.5 million in political action committee contributions to the small number of lawmakers who helped advance the issue.

All of this unfolded with almost no scrutiny: “Besides the sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill, few lawmakers knew the true impact the law would have. It sailed through Congress and was passed by unanimous consent, a parliamentary procedure reserved for bills considered to be noncontroversial. The White House was equally unaware of the bill’s import when President Barack Obama signed it into law, according to interviews with former senior administration officials.”

A separate Washington Post  analysis explained that a story like this “shows everything people hate about Washington,” complete with a revolving door between the drug industry and those who regulate it, the influence of campaign cash on lawmakers, and Congress failing to do its due diligence on important policy matters.

Marino, having championed the bill, removed himself from consideration as “drug czar” soon after. Today, he removed himself from Congress, too.