This morning, news is breaking that Rep. Tom Marino, President Trump’s choice for drug czar, has withdrawn his nomination in the wake of a damaging report produced jointly by the Washington Post and “60 Minutes.”
But could the real target– or best-placed person caught in the crossfire– actually have been Rep. Marsha Blackburn?
Blackburn recently announced she is running for Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat, which Democrats already view as a potentially viable target thanks to a combination of factors.
First, Blackburn is running as a staunch conservative for a seat held by the moderate Sen. Bob Corker.
Second, Corker only barely scraped a win of that seat back in 2006, a tough mid-term election year for Republicans, over Democratic Rep. Harold Ford.
Third, Democrats have been speculating since Corker announced his retirement that former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen could be induced to enter the race, something that he just so happens to be “considering” since the Post-“60 Minutes” report broke.
The Post-“60 Minutes” report alleges that Marino and other Members of Congress undercut efforts by the Drug Enforcement Agency to keep prescription painkillers from flowing to addicts, as a de facto swap for campaign contributions by Big Pharma. One of the members name-checked in the piece was Blackburn.
The Post noted in its write-up that Blackburn had received $120,000 in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, and claims the sector spent big money lobbying for the bill. The piece alleges that Big Pharma was eager to make it harder for the DEA to impound shipments of prescription painkillers where they had suspicions that those drugs would feed addictions via ethically-untethered health care providers.
Today, the Post reports that “Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who is running for the Senate in a state that has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, is also fielding attacks for being a lead sponsor of Marino’s bill” and that “James Mackler, the Senate race’s Democratic front-runner, criticized Blackburn for her involvement.”
Mackler may be the one doing the on-the-record attacking, but it looks like former Obama staffers did a good bit of talking to the Post ahead of their filing the report, with the paper writing that “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 major trend developing ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections has been former Obama campaign and administration officials re-engaging in politics, whether as candidates themselves or prominent backers of candidates.
Mackler, who entered the race before Corker announced his retirement, does not at first glance appear to be a candidate handpicked by any Obama alumni. However, as a veteran, he does fit the mold of the kind of candidate that national Democrats have been trying to recruit in a cycle where they need to appeal to more conservative voters to win back the Senate.
Bredesen fits the mold even better, as a Democrat who won statewide in Tennessee twice, and a former governor who earned three “B” and one “C” ratings for his fiscal governance from the libertarian CATO Institute while in office.
As to the substance of the Post-“60 Minutes” allegations, Sen. Orrin Hatch yesterday pushed back on assertions that the bill he, Marino and Blackburn backed was a “sop” to the drug industry, noting that the bill in question passed by unanimous consent, and that the bill’s language was crafted by President Obama’s DEA and Department of Justice. As noted by the Post, President Obama signed the bill into law.
Stay tuned to see if Bredesen enters the race, and if so, how vocally he attacks Blackburn on this issue.