By Thomas Fitzgerald
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie didn't get tapped for the dream jobs of vice president, attorney general or chief of staff, but he has at last joined the Trump administration to work on a nightmare issue close to his heart.
On Wednesday, Christie debuted as the new chairman of a commission to combat opioid abuse, sitting to the president's right during a White House listening session with people whose lives have been touched by addiction and government officials charged with fighting the drug problem.
"This issue causes enormous pain and destruction to every day families in every state in this country," Christie said, speaking of abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin. "Addiction is a disease, and it is a disease that can be treated," he said. "Folks don't talk about it. ... People are afraid and ashamed to talk about drug addiction."
The assignment is part time, and Christie reaffirmed his intent to serve out the remainder of his term in Trenton, which ends next January, as he made the rounds of network morning shows.
After dropping out of the Republican presidential primary last year, Christie endorsed Donald Trump, the first major party figure to do so. He became a high-profile surrogate for the New York developer, for the rest of the campaign, was a finalist for the vice presidential nomination, and reportedly was considered for the top jobs of attorney general and chief of staff. It didn't happen, though Christie has said that he turned down lesser job offers from the White House because he did not want to move his family to Washington.
Trump teased Christie for endorsing his candidacy "once he got out of the race," implying that the support was on the late side. Jabbed the president: "He liked himself better than me, but other than that ... "
"Still do, sir, but that's all right," Christie said.
"Other than that, he's been great," Trump said. "And he's a very effective guy, let me tell you."
Trump praised a 2015 Christie speech on drug addiction, based on the overdose death of a college friend, as an emotional high point of the GOP campaign.
The governor said that he and Trump shared a commitment to fighting opioid abuse based in part on their anti-abortion beliefs. "We're pro-life for the whole life," Christie said. "Not just for the nine months in the womb, but for the whole life. Every life is an individual gift from God and is precious. ... And no life is irredeemable."
It is unclear how the opioid commission's mission will mesh with the existing Office of National Drug Control Policy in the White House and Justice Department enforcement efforts. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was at the meeting Wednesday, has called for stepped up interdiction and prosecution of drug offenses.
Christie has said that prevention and law enforcement are important, but stresses treatment of addiction as the most pressing need.
Also among those in attendance were Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. They were joined by White House aides Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, as well as Omarosa Manigault, who was a contestant on Trump's TV reality show "The Apprentice."
In earlier interviews on NBC's "Today" show, "Fox & Friends," and ABC's "Good Morning America," Christie tiptoed around questions about the congressional investigation into ties between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, the failure of the GOP bill to replace Obamacare and early missteps by the administration.
On "Today," host Matt Lauer noted that administrations often undergo reorganizations in the first year and asked if Christie was willing to step in as chief of staff if the job becomes available.
"Any speculation about that kind of stuff is not something I'm going to address because I've got a job and I enjoy doing it and I want to keep it," Christie said. He did not rule out joining the administration after leaving office.
Pressed to give the Trump administration a grade based on its first 70 days, Christie said incomplete.
"It's nine weeks down and 199 weeks to go in the first term," he said. "I'd suggest that everybody take a breath. I've never seen such breathlessness over nine weeks of work."
(c)2017 The Philadelphia Inquirer