DAVID GREENE, HOST:
News in Washington this morning - Tom Marino, President Trump's nominee to be the next federal drug czar, has withdrawn his name from consideration. This is according to a tweet from the president this morning. The Republican congressman came under fire after a joint Washington Post-"60 Minutes" report revealed that Marino has deep ties to the drug industry. He championed a bill that made it harder to act against drug companies suspected of flooding the market with narcotics. Yesterday, Senate Democrats called on Trump to withdraw Marino's nomination.
Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri is meanwhile introducing legislation that would roll back the bill Marino introduced, giving the Drug Enforcement Administration more room to crack down on opioid distributors suspected of wrongdoing. Earlier this morning, we asked Senator McCaskill why if the bill Marino championed in 2016 was so aggregious so many Democrats supported it in the first place.
CLAIRE MCCASKILL: Well, this is a good example of something that happens sometimes in Washington - not often. But it's really insidious in that, you know, these drug distributors hired people out of the DEA, and then they went to work trying to wear down the DEA as it relates to changing this law. Members of Congress who were pressing this law, you know, tried to keep saying, you don't have a good working relationship with the distributors.
Meanwhile, these distributors were sending 9 million pills into a small community in West Virginia that had fewer than a thousand people. Obviously they were not trying to do their best job in terms of making sure these products were diverted to the black market. So I think this was Congress not paying close enough attention, pharma and the drug industry having too much influence and the revolving door that so often helps industries get their way.
GREENE: So are you prepared to tell your fellow Democrats next time a bill like this is there, you should, A, pay more attention to the details, and B, consider how much money you're getting from pharma companies?
MCCASKILL: Well, I think pharma is one of the big players on the Hill, and it is a problem. I mean, look no farther than the Medicare drug program where they were able to get into the law that we're not allowed to negotiate for lower prices based on volume. So we do need to stand up to pharma. And I'm hoping that this will give everyone a chance to kind of clean the slate by repealing these provisions and giving the DEA all the tools they really need in light of this unprecedented public health crisis.
GREENE: It's not usual that I ask a U.S. senator how dinner was last night, but (laughter) I kind of need to ask you because I understand you had dinner with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. And I wonder if this nomination came up at dinner.
MCCASKILL: It did not. But it was a bipartisan group of senators, and I try to go out of my way to spend time with both Republicans and Democrats because I think we've got to get back to the old-fashioned way of compromise in order to get things done. I listened. I think the most obvious takeaway from the dinner is it's very hard for any of us to really know what to think about a tax plan until we actually see a tax plan.
GREENE: OK, and you mentioned the tax plan, which is the next big item on the Republican agenda. President Trump actually came to your state and said that if you don't play ball with him on the tax cuts, he wants - Missouri voters should vote you out. Are you worried about your political future?
MCCASKILL: I'm not as worried about President Trump as I am the people of Missouri. And I will be happy to be for a tax plan if it truly is for the middle class. But so far, the only thing we've seen are broad outlines of a plan that's going to make millionaires and billionaires very happy but not going to do enough for the middle class.
GREENE: You say you're in the mood to compromise. Do you see room for compromise? Are you ready to move on some of your principles when it comes to taxes to get a deal done with President Trump and Republicans on taxes?
MCCASKILL: Listen. I'd love to bring down taxes for people living paycheck to paycheck and families that're struggling with day care cost. And I would love to simplify the tax code, and I would love to make our companies more competitive.
So absolutely, I am always willing to come to the middle - and if this might be a place we can. But the initial plan they released clearly is designed more towards relief for people that already have a great deal of capital in our system and unfortunately not for those families I'm most worried about.
GREENE: Claire McCaskill is a Democratic senator from the state of Missouri. Senator, thanks so much for your time this morning.
MCCASKILL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.