Legalization advocates and industry leaders were startled by a report yesterday that President Trump met with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Christie’s wife, Mary Pat, for a Valentine’s Day lunch.
Trump and Christie met to discuss “combating drug use,” a White House spokesman said. Christie has made the fight against the opioid crisis a focus of his last year as governor. He’s also been a famously outspoken opponent of cannabis legalization in Colorado and other states.
Christie is looking for work. Trump needs to fill appointments. They just had lunch. You do the math.
News of the Trump–Christie tet-a-tet was largely buried under reports surrounding the White House’s expanding Mike Flynn controversy. But for those following the Trump administration’s as-yet-undetermined cannabis policy, it was interesting news indeed.
Consider this: On a day when his national security team fell into disarray, with North Korea missile launches and assassination plots grabbing headlines, with his labor secretary’s nomination flaming out, the president chose to spend a mid-day hour noshing with Chris Christie. This is a man he famously passed over for the vice presidency and fired from his transition team “for hogging camera and not showing up to work,” as New York Magazine put it.
Christie is a governor serving the lamest of lame-duck terms. It’s well known that he’s looking for work. His fealty to Trump is legendary. Yesterday’s lunch? In any other context, that’s a job interview.
So what might he be up for? There are plenty of openings to fill. The Washington Post recently reported that, through last week, Trump’s team had nominated only 35 people to fill 693 high-level politically appointed vacancies. (That’s actually not a shocking record; at this point in 2009, the Post points out, President Obama had only nominated 38 officials.)
The two most likely jobs: DEA administrator, or White House drug czar.
The two highest-profile vacancies still available and within Christie’s wheelhouse are DEA administrator and “drug czar,” aka Director of the White House Office on Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
The drug czar job seems like the most likely fit, if history is any guide. DEA administrators are usually former high-level law enforcement administrators or Department of Justice officials. The only exception was current Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who was a sitting congressman when he was appointed DEA administrator by President George W. Bush in 2001.
Drug czars are often chosen from a pool of higher-profile talent. Bill Bennett had already made himself famous as a firebrand Education Secretary when President George H.W. Bush tapped him in 1989 to create the job of drug czar. Former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez took the job after Bennett. President Bill Clinton asked Gen. Barry McCaffrey to take over the post in 1996, appointing an actual general to lead the war on drugs. Other presidents have chosen to downplay the office with lower-profile picks. John Walters, a Bill Bennett protégé, ran the office under George W. Bush; Gil Kerlikowske, the former Seattle police chief, served under President Obama.
Fun fact: By law, the Drug Czar must oppose any attempt to legalize the use, in any form, of all Schedule I substances, including cannabis. I’d link you to the section of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998 that spells out that rule, but the Trump administration has redirected all posts from the Obama-era ONDCP web site to this placeholder:
So Christie, with his high profile, might be a nice fit for the drug czar job.
On the other hand: There are at least three mitigating factors working against the New Jersey governor.
One: We’ve seen that Trump enjoys keeping the spotlight on himself and does not appreciate others stealing headlines. Or “hogging camera,” as it were.
Two: Christie enjoys stirring things up, whether with straight-shooting opinions or bare-knuckle political tactics (see under: Bridgegate scandal). And while Trump also enjoys stirring the pot, he might not appreciate an underling creating trouble in an area—cannabis legalization—where Trump really doesn’t seem to hold strong opinions.
Three: Christie simply doesn’t look the part. Trump observers continue to point out that he seems to choose appointees as if he’s casting a reality TV show. To get the part, you gotta look the part. And Trump has always had a problem with Christie’s appearance.
Trump has already rejected Christie twice. Maybe the third time’s a charm. We’ll keep watching this space.