Kellyanne Conway is exploiting her position as head of the White House “opioid cabinet” to bolster the president’s call for a border wall.
According to Politico, the senior counselor to President Donald Trump is blocking the acting opioid czar's experts and leaders from attending meetings while 175 people die each day from drug abuse.
"The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place. If they don’t start, they won't have a problem," Trump said during his briefing in August. "So we’re going to do our job. We’re going to get it going. We’ve got a tremendous team of experts and people that want to beat this horrible situation that’s happened to our country — and we will. We will win."
That "tremendous team of experts" the president touted have no power or authority to advise or even speak with the president, thanks to Conway blocking them. Until just recently, the highest ranking Trump appointee to the effort was a 24-year-old recent college graduate. Trump's previous appointee to chair the office withdrew from consideration after a "60 Minutes" expose on his efforts to undermine the FDA's war against opioids.
"It’s fair to say the [Office of National Drug Control Policy] has pretty much been systematically excluded from key decisions about opioids and the strategy moving forward,” a former Trump administration staffer told Politico.
Rich Baum has been serving as acting director after decades in the office and he too has been shut out of meetings due to Conway.
While Trump started his first year in office with a commission headed by former Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) that generated a report, little seems to have been done since.
“I don’t know what the agency is doing. I really don’t,” said former chief of staff Regina LaBelle, who served under President Barack Obama's administration. “They aren’t at the level of visibility you’d think they’d be at by now.”
In an interview with Politico rencetly, Conway claimed a circle of advisers help “formalize and centralize strategy, coordinate policy, scheduling and public awareness” throughout the government agencies. It's a definition for what the drug czar does.
“I haven’t talked to Kellyanne at all and I’m from the worst state for this,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), whose state has the highest overdose death rate in the U.S. “I’m uncertain of her role.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who has also been working on the opioid crisis, noted the same problem. His wife, however, was at an event with Conway for the first lady.
“If I want technical advice, I’m going to work with Baum,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), who's co-chairing a bipartisan task force on heroin. “If I want to get a message to the president, Kellyanne is somebody that I know I can talk to.”
“Kellyanne Conway is not an expert in this field,” said Andrew Kessler. His consulting group, Slingshot Solutions, has worked with federal agencies on substance abuse issues. “She may be a political operative and a good political operative. But look. When you appoint a secretary of labor, you want someone with a labor background. When you appoint a secretary of defense, you want someone with a defense background. The opioid epidemic needs leadership that ‘speaks’ the language of drug policy.”
Trump is expected to issue a 95 percent budget cut to the “drug czar” office. He tried to do it last year in the budget but backed off.