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Faced with a scandal, Trump's pick for drug czar quits

Donald Trump's nominee for drug czar faced the kind of questions he simply couldn't answer.
Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Following explosive reporting this week from the Washington Post and CBS's "60 Minutes," Donald Trump is suddenly in need of a new drug czar.

Rep. Tom Marino has withdrawn from consideration as the White House's pick for drug czar following a bombshell report that he championed a bill that hindered federal agents from going after the Big Pharma firms that flooded the country with addictive opioids.President Donald Trump made the announcement Tuesday morning on Twitter. "Rep.Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar," Trump wrote. "Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!"

Given the available information, it's difficult to argue with this outcome. The Post reported that as the opioid crisis intensified, 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."

Leading the way was Tom Marino, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, who was the beneficiary of generous contributions from the drug industry.

Had Trump nominated Marino to almost any administrative post, it would've been difficult to defend the GOP lawmaker, but given the fact that the president wanted the GOP lawmaker to serve as the nation's drug czar, this week's revelations were disqualifying.

As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) put it yesterday afternoon, "Confirming Representative Marino as our nation's drug czar is like putting the wolf in charge of the hen house."

The Pennsylvanian Republican's withdrawal does not, however, mean the story is over.

First, some state officials are already using the latest reporting to go after drug companies, blaming them for allegedly having a role in making the opioid epidemic worse.

And second, the problematic law Tom Marino helped pass is still on the books. Sen. Joe Machin (D), whose home state of West Virginia has been hit especially hard by the opiod crisis, announced plans yesterday to undo what Marino has done. From the senator's press statement:

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) today introduced legislation repealing the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 after the Washington Post report indicated that the legislation has dramatically restricted the ability of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to crack down on opioid distributors and manufacturers suspected of wrongdoing."I am horrified by how harmful this bill has been for our efforts to effectively fight the opioid epidemic and now it's time to make it right," Senator Manchin. "I introduced legislation to repeal this horrible bill and reinstate the DEA's ability to stop opioid distributors and manufacturers who are endangering the American people. The DEA is one of our first lines of defense against this all-consuming disease. West Virginia's families and communities deserve a DEA that will protect them, not pharmaceutical companies."

We don't yet know whether Congress' Republican majority will take up Manchin's proposal.

As for Marino, the timeline of events is striking:

* April 11: Trump offers drug czar job to Marino.

* May 4: Marino withdraws from consideration, citing an unspecified family illness.

* May through August: Trump leaves the position open.

* Sept. 2: Trump offers drug czar job to Marino again.

* Oct. 15: Washington Post publishes its special report.

* Oct. 17: Marino withdraws from consideration again.

No word yet on who the White House may nominate next.