Drug overdose deaths — originally from prescription opioids but increasingly now from heroin and fentanyl — have emerged as an increasingly grave social issue, steadily worsening over the past few years even as the economy improves.
In that light, I thought this little nugget of reporting in the 23rd paragraph of a Politico story by Nancy Cook and Andrew Restuccia was very telling. Their story is mostly about Jared Kushner’s shrinking role in the White House as Chief of Staff John Kelly tries to impose more discipline.
It notes that Kelly’s challenge is he doesn’t have a long retinue of loyalists to bring in to fill staff roles, and he’s even struggled to find a deputy for himself. One guy who didn’t work out as a deputy chief of staff is apparently getting kicked upstairs to run the Office of National Drug Control Policy:
Kelly’s decision to look outside the White House for a deputy comes after a failed attempt to replace Nielsen with somebody already serving in the administration: He told associates he was disappointed in the performance of Jim Carroll, an administration lawyer who joined the West Wing as deputy chief of staff in December. The White House nominated Carroll as national drug czar earlier this month.
This is, to be brutally honest, not the first time that filling the drug czar role has been an afterthought for an administration. Yet Trump, specifically, took office in the middle of an unprecedented drug overdose crisis. And the crisis has only gotten worse during his tenure. Meanwhile, after passing a tax cut and losing the Alabama Senate seat, his party’s legislative agenda is going nowhere.
In other words: He could really use a good drug czar.
Instead, after leaving the post vacant for a long time, he’s filling it with a guy his chief of staff couldn’t get along with or thought was bad at his job.
It speaks not only to Trump’s limitations as a chief executive but also to Kelly’s weaknesses as the “grown-up” chief of staff who’s supposed to serve as the president’s backstop. More or less as you would expect from a career military officer, Kelly is really into order and discipline and not that engaged with the broad sweep of domestic issues that occur in American politics.
Trump, meanwhile, isn’t engaged with anything. And while purging the administration of troublemakers has a certain logic to it, it also encourages staff-level passivity. It seems like nothing at all will be done on the country’s most urgent public health crisis, just as the White House did nothing about the severe flu outbreak over the winter or about the blackouts in Puerto Rico.
We just have to hope no more bad stuff happens.