Trump says Marino has withdrawn as drug czar nominee

President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced that Rep. Tom Marino has withdrawn his name from consideration to become the administration’s next drug czar, after CBS’ "60 Minutes" and The Washington Post reported that the lawmaker championed a law that hobbled federal efforts to combat the abuse of opioids.

"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 on Tuesday morning.

Trump on Monday had pledged to reverse his nomination of Marino (R-Pa.) to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy if “it’s 1 percent negative to doing what we want to do.”


Manchin: Marino will be drug czar ‘over my dead body’

Sen. Joe Manchin said Tuesday that he intends to stop Rep. Tom Marino from becoming the nation’s drug czar, telling CNN that “over my dead body” will the Pennsylvania lawmaker be confirmed to the post.

The White House announced last month that President Donald Trump would nominate Marino (R-Pa.) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy, an appointment that appears uncertain now in the wake of reporting from CBS News and The Washington Post that Marino championed legislation that hamstrung DEA efforts to combat opioid abuse.

“He is not going to be — over my dead body will he be the drug czar,” Manchin (D-W.Va.) said of Marino on CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday. “That is not the person that a person from West Virginia can look at this man, being the drug czar, a person that basically weakened it and allowed hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people get killed. This is wrong. And I’m sure when the president sees this, adjustments will be made.”

The legislation backed by Marino, the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, made it essentially impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotics shipments from drug companies. The bill had been backed by pharmaceutical industry lobbyists and opposed by the DEA.

Trump, at a press conference Monday in the White House’s Rose Garden, said he had seen the CBS and Post reporting and that “we’re going to be looking into Tom.” The president also teased a “major announcement probably next week on the drug crisis and on the opioid massive problem.”

Manchin, who on Monday sent a letter to Trump asking that Marino’s name be removed from consideration for the drug czar position, said that Congress would move to repeal the law championed by the Pennsylvania Republican. The West Virginia senator said he was “outraged” by the bill, which he said had been “greased” and camouflaged so as to avoid any dissent and easily pass through the Senate.

West Virginia has been hard-hit by the opioid crisis and reportedly has one of the highest overdose rates in the country.

“We’re all outraged. How can this happen? My entire staff, you think I haven’t berated them?” Manchin said. “We’ve got to repeal the bill. We’ve got to repeal that portion of the bill, degut it, if you will… We’re going to do that and also we have to have someone who is passionate and Congressman Marino is not that person.”

Poll: Trump’s approval holding steady, but more say country headed in wrong direction

President Donald Trump’s approval rating remains largely unchanged from late last month, a new CNN poll released Tuesday shows, but the number of respondents who believe things in the country are going well has dipped, as has the president’s approval rating when it comes to hurricanes.

Thirty-seven percent of those polled said they approve of Trump’s handling of his job as president, the same as a CNN poll conducted late last month, while those who said they did not approve of his job performance climbed one percentage point to 57 percent.

But the number of respondents who said they believe things in the U.S. are headed in the right direction dipped in the most recent CNN poll to 46 percent, down 7 points from August.

And on the issue of hurricane response, one on which Trump has claimed great success, those reached by CNN expressed a diminishing opinion of the president’s performance. In late September, in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, 64 percent of those polled by CNN said they approved of the president’s handling of storm response, while 25 percent said they disapprove.

But a feud-filled response to damage left by Hurricane Maria appears to have taken its toll on Trump’s polling numbers as well: Now, just 44 percent of respondents said they approve of the president’s handling of storm response while 47 percent said they disapprove.

With the White House mounting a major push to back the president’s proposed tax reform package, respondents to CNN’s poll expressed skepticism about Trump’s policies. Fifty-six percent of those polled said they believe the policies proposed by the president will move the country in the wrong direction, while 38 percent said they will move the country in the right direction.

And as the 2018 midterms approach, Democrats appear to hold an advantage on a generic ballot, with 51 percent of respondents telling CNN that they would support a Democratic candidate in their Congressional district. Thirty-seven percent of those polled said they would prefer a GOP candidate.

The CNN poll was conducted from Oct. 12-15, reaching 1,010 adults nationwide. The poll’s margin of error was plus-or-minus 3.5 points.

Puerto Rico to Trump: ‘We Are American Citizens’ before the interview starts, Jenniffer Gonzalez tries four different numbers she’s been trying to reach back home in Puerto Rico. She gets the same error message for all of them. Can’t connect.

One call that does come through is from the White House, which is trying to explain away the president’s tweets warning that the federal response wouldn’t go on forever. Her reaction was off the record.

Gonzalez, Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative in Congress, is using what limited power she has to wheedle, cajole and beg agencies to help with an island territory she says has been put back a century—some 86 percent of Puerto Ricans are still without electricity, three weeks after the hurricane knocked out the island’s power grid, and 29 percent don’t even have potable water.

She’s calling in favors and firing off text messages to get patients dialysis or chemotherapy, with no time to think about the damage to her own house. Gonzalez happened to be home during the storm, and she was literally holding the door closed. Now in Washington to lobby for a more vigorous relief effort, she’s anxious about all the damage that continues to mount from rain that keeps coming down on homes that don’t have roofs anymore.

“Your life,” Gonzalez told me with tears in her eyes during an interview for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast, “is like stopping without knowing what is going to happen next.”

Days after we spoke, on Monday, President Donald Trump was standing in the Rose Garden of the White House, explaining why he shouldn’t be blamed for a lackluster hurricane response that has exasperated Puerto Ricans and infuriated many other Americans back on the mainland.

Trump cited the pre-existing debt, said the island “was in really bad shape” before the storm, ripped local authorities for making the military participate in handing out food in a way that “they shouldn’t have to be doing,” and insisted he’d been doing an “outstanding job.”

The word Gonzalez—a lifelong Republican—kept using to describe presidential statements like this is “shocking.”

Two weeks ago, she hitched a ride on Air Force One to San Juan, and came back with a red Make America Great Again hat signed by the president and what seemed like commitments to the recovery. She doesn’t understand why the president, having seen the disaster with his own eyes, hasn’t prioritized federal resources and instead issued threats.

Does the president get what is going on? I asked her.

“You know what?” she answered. “Maybe I’m going to be nice here: I don’t know.” She was clearly choosing her words carefully.

“This is not the time to be talking about withdrawing the help,” she continued, a flash of anger in her voice. “This is not the time to talk about how much it’s costing the U.S., because we are American citizens.”

Before she was in Congress, Gonzalez was the Republican Party chair in Puerto Rico, and though she started out backing Jeb Bush, and then Marco Rubio, eventually supported Trump for president.

She doesn’t criticize him for that viral moment tossing out the paper towels and cans of chicken on his visit to the island two weeks ago—“you are dealing with a president that is always off the script, that says what he thinks,” she said—but she refuses to accept his repeated suggestions that somehow Puerto Rico brought the situation on itself through its debt crisis or management failures.

“Saying that Puerto Rico is in bankruptcy as a way or excuse just to not to help is not wise. It’s not American and it’s not rightful,” Gonzalez said. “If we were a state, we already would have a lot of the help that Florida did.”

She said the president’s hostile statements make even less sense in light of the engaged, serious conversation she had with him on the plane, and the action on the ground since: “He’s sending the resources. He’s granting everything that has been asked. He’s having daily briefings on the island. He’s sending the troops.”

But the cost of rebuilding Puerto Rico is likely to be enormous—the House recently voted for $4.9 billion in relief funds for what estimates are pegging at an overall need north of $90 billion.

And Trump, as he manages to do on every issue, has turned his Puerto Rico response into a frenzy of raging feelings. The day before sitting for the interview, Gonzalez spoke at a rally near the Capitol hosted by a group called Unite for Puerto Rico that repeatedly descended into shouting and shouting about stopping the shouting. Rep. José Serrano, a New Yorker who was born in Puerto Rico, ripped into the president, prompting Wisconsin Republican Rep. Sean Duffy, who spoke next, to rush to Trump’s defense.

“President Trump spent more time on the island than Barack Obama!” he declared to boos, and shouts of “It’s not about politics!”

“I don’t care about what the letter is behind your name, I care about what we’re going to do for the island of Puerto Rico. To come in here and listen to that crap, I think undermines a bipartisan mission to bring people together,” Duffy said in an interview after the speech, touting the funding bill. “It’s going to be Republicans that are going to deliver.”

That’s the problem, argued Rep. Adriano Espaillat, a Dominican-born Democrat from New York: The president and the Republicans haven’t been delivering on what he says “is becoming the Caribbean Katrina.”

“This is a humanitarian crisis. This should not have a political label on it. But President Trump is the commander in chief. The Department of Defense should have gone out there and handled this like a war zone,” Espaillat said, in an interview after his own remarks at the rally. As for Trump’s claims of doing a great job, Espaillat added, “He’s done a horrible job.”

A major subplot of the crisis has been San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz’s frequent TV hits, sometimes in custom-made T-shirts, to make attacks like this right to the camera, and a spun-up Trump channeling his anger into tweets attacking her.

It’s clear Gonzalez doesn’t think the mayor is helping the situation.

“Everybody on the island is frustrated because we never expected to be hit by this kind of hurricane and we never expected to be for so long without power. So everybody is using their frustration in different ways. I know a lot of mayors there are around the clock, working, and calling,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez admits to some guilt in going home to her apartment in Washington and having a working shower, or just being able to get a bottle of water—the kinds of things that are now major luxuries in Puerto Rico. She’s making several trips back home every week, accompanying official delegations with the president, the vice president and the speaker of the House and each time packing bags full of supplies. She even loaded up Air Force One with medicines, a diesel can and dry food.

On a desk covered in papers and notes that comes with being the main point of contact between the crisis and Washington, she also has two books: Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake’s “Conscience of a Conservative,” and Jill Lepore’s “The Secret History of Wonder Woman.”

The decoration in her office that gets the most prominent display is an American flag with 51 stars. Despite multiple referendums showing heavy support for statehood, she doesn’t see that happening anytime soon. But maybe there’s a silver lining to the storm clouds, she said, in making the country more open to the idea.

“The only good thing this hurricane brought us is that now everybody knows that we are American citizens,” she said. “And we are 3.4 million American citizens, actually.”

Trump could remake judiciary for ‘40 years’ — with controversial picks

President Donald Trump has nominated 50 candidates to lifetime appointments to the federal bench — including a man who asserted transgender children were evidence of “Satan’s plan,” one deemed unqualified by the American Bar Association and a handful of prolific bloggers.

And the GOP has unanimously stuck by Trump’s judges. Senate Republicans have cleared judicial nominees at a comparatively rapid clip this year — even as the conservative base has complained they’re not moving fast enough — and are planning to pick up the pace even more in the coming months.

Among the more eyebrow-raising judges is Charles Goodwin, who has been nominated to the federal bench in Oklahoma. He is the first judicial nominee since 2006 to earn a “not qualified” label from the American Bar Association, which has screened judicial candidates since the 1950s.

But both of his Republican home-state senators, James Lankford and Jim Inhofe, say they’re still confident Goodwin is adequately qualified to serve on the bench and dismissed the ABA’s findings.

“He’s been a very solid jurist,” Lankford said. “We’re trying to find out the whys [of the ABA rating]. Of course, they’re very secretive about the process and why they make the decisions they do.”

Inhofe added: “I personally really vetted him well and took this very seriously. There’s got to be some reason for [the ABA ratings] that I don’t understand.”

The defense underscores Republicans’ commitment to remaking the federal judiciary for generations to come, even as the Senate GOP and Trump have butted heads on other issues and struggled to carry out their broader legislative agenda.

“The judge story is an untold story,” Trump said Monday at a news conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “When you think about it, Mitch and I were saying, that has consequences 40 years out, depending on the age of the judge, but 40 years out.”

No Republican senator has voted against Trump’s judicial nominees so far this year, either in committee or in confirmation votes on the floor.

The Senate has confirmed seven judges, including four to the powerful appellate courts and Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. In comparison, Barack Obama had just three judges confirmed, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, at this point during his first year in office.

Even at the committee level, Republicans have been moving more quickly to fill the judicial vacancies.

As of Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will have held confirmation hearings for 26 district and circuit court nominees. At this point in Obama’s presidency, 14 of those nominees had hearings, according to Christopher Kang, who worked on nominations in the Obama White House.

Trump came into office with not just an open Supreme Court seat but a historic number of vacancies on the federal bench, thanks in major part to McConnell’s dramatic slowdown of judicial confirmations in the final two years of Obama’s presidency.

Trump’s slate of judicial nominees has enthralled the right.

“We are thrilled with the nominees that we have been seeing coming out of this administration,” said Carrie Severino, the chief counsel of the conservative advocacy group Judicial Crisis Network. “It’s an issue that unites Republicans of all stripes.”

Severino’s group is pressuring the GOP-led Senate to more expeditiously confirm judges and has been privately communicating with McConnell’s aides about the issue since threatening to wage an ad campaign against the majority leader last week.

Soon after, McConnell reiterated his desire to do away with the century-old “blue slip” tradition, in which senators can exercise veto power over judges nominated from their home states. He stressed that stance at the White House Monday, saying blue slips for appellate picks should “simply be a notification of how you intend to vote.” Otherwise, he added, Democratic senators could “blackball” a large portion of Trump’s circuit court nominees.

Democrats dismiss conservative complaints that the Senate is moving at a plodding pace on judicial nominations.

“The only fact conservatives can honestly cite is the high number of vacancies — but that is immediately undercut because Republicans are the ones who created it by confirming only 22 judges last Congress, the fewest since President Truman, including only two circuit judges,” Kang said.

Democrats and outside liberal groups have mounted a campaign to derail a slew of those candidates, particularly nominees who they say have shown a hostility to the rights of minorities.

Chief among their targets is Jeff Mateer, nominated to a federal judgeship in Texas, who in a past speech referred to transgender children as proof of “Satan’s plan.” Mateer, according to comments unearthed by CNN, has also implied that the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage is “disgusting” and could lead to polygamy or bestiality.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has said he still stands by Mateer’s nomination. But Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) has publicly voiced some concerns, particularly that Mateer didn’t disclose the contents of those speeches before he and Cruz ultimately recommended that he be nominated.

“That’s a big problem,” Cornyn told Politico earlier this month. “That may not be the only problem, but that’s a big problem.”

The second-ranking Senate Republican said he is sympathetic to Mateer’s right to speak freely, particularly if some of his personal views stem from his religious convictions.

“But the problem is, for me, is the failure to disclose the information up front so we can then talk about that,” Cornyn said. “We want to make sure, fundamentally, everybody has access to fair and equal justice and it’s important that, notwithstanding the opinions that people may have about various subjects, that they separate that from what their job as a judge would be.”

A White House spokeswoman pointed to Trump’s comments on Monday when asked whether the administration still supports the nominations of Mateer and Goodwin.

But Severino defended them, calling the ABA a “liberal special interest group” and calling the campaign against Mateer “part of the same witch hunt” waged against Amy Coney Barrett, a 7th Circuit nominee whose traditional Roman Catholic faith had come under scrutiny from Democratic senators.

And other Senate Republicans have signaled concerns about previous nominees only to support them in the end. John Bush was confirmed to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year, even as he came under tough questioning from Republicans about his political blog posts.

Among his commentary: That slavery and abortion were the “two greatest tragedies in our country” and “relied on similar reasoning and activist justices,” and linking to a conservative site that spread conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace. GOP Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and John Kennedy of Louisiana made clear they weren’t pleased with Bush’s writings, but they ultimately supported Bush, and he was confirmed on a 51-47 party-line vote in July.

Another nominee with a penchant for blogging is likely to face pointed questions from Democrats on the Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Brett Talley, who has been nominated to a federal judgeship in Alabama, wrote a handful of blog posts with pointed views on gun rights, including an item that urged readers to join the National Rifle Association and calling gun control legislation rolled out in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012 the “greatest attack on our constitutional freedoms in our lifetime.”

Democrats have few tools left at their disposal to stop confirmation of these lifetime appointments, after voting to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for nearly all nominations four years ago and watching Republicans eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees earlier this year. Still, they’re working to mount whatever protest they can.

“I think the very questionable caliber of President Trump’s judicial nominees demonstrates his contempt for the rule of law and the quality of the American judiciary,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. “It’s a pattern that emerges clearly from his public statements and through his nominees that he puts politics first in catering to the far right and quality eighth or ninth, if at all.”

Senate approves Callista Gingrich as ambassador to Vatican

The Senate on Monday confirmed Callista Gingrich, the wife of former House Speaker and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

The vote was 70-23, with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and several other Democrats joining all Republicans in favor.

Callista Gingrich serves as the CEO of Gingrich Productions and is an author, filmmaker and former congressional aide. Her husband was an outspoken supporter of, and informal adviser to, Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

She is the third wife of Newt Gingrich, who converted to Catholicism when he married her.

Trump had announced her nomination in May.