with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! Today, we talk with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine about how the pandemic has worsened his state’s opioid crisis. But don’t miss the latest on President Biden’s ambitious infrastructure package. Send me links to politics or policy stories you think deserve more attention! And tell your friends to sign up here.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine hopes President Biden will take a hard line on Chinese production and export of fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller implicated in tens of thousands of opioid overdose deaths, the Republican told me in an interview.

If he had Biden on the telephone, DeWine said his message “would be pretty concise: Fentanyl is our biggest drug problem. It’s being mixed into virtually everything. It’s why so many people are dying of overdoses.” 

“And to a great extent, this fentanyl is coming out of China. Despite China’s statements that they’re working to stop it, it’s still coming out of China,” he said. “It should be a major foreign policy concern for any American president.” 

Asked about the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the drug crisis in Ohio, DeWine replied: “It’s one more public-health crisis. Our opioid problem has been a longstanding public-health crisis but this pandemic certainly made it worse.”

The coronavirus that has killed more than 550,000 people in the United States hasn’t just pushed the fight against drugs like fentanyl from the front pages. It has also made the opioid crisis deadlier enhancing strains like job loss while keeping people away from in-person treatment and support and increasing overdoses.

“People’s mental health, people’s addiction problems [were] certainly increased by the pandemic,” DeWine said.

The White House did not return an email seeking comment, but Biden promised on the campaign trail to stem the flow of fentanyl into the United States “especially from China and Mexico.”

And, in a statement on National Poison Prevention Week earlier this month, Biden said: “Two out of three opioid-involved overdose deaths involve synethic opioids, including illegally manufactured fentanyl. When used in combination with other drugs, with or without the user's knowledge, it can be poisonous and deadly.”

DeWine, who said he “certainly will” deliver his message personally to Biden’s team, told me in an interview in late 2019 he had reached out directly to Terry Branstad, then ambassador to China, out of frustration with lack of progress on fentanyl.

Two years later, even as China has highlighted its efforts to crack down, the drug is still DeWine's biggest opioid-related worry.

“You see it with meth, you see it with cocaine, it’s just mixed into everything so it’s still just a massive problem,” he said. “It is certainly something that I think every administration needs to be reminded of.”

“Four opioids — oxycodone, hydrocodone, heroin and fentanyl — have killed more than 400,000 people across the United States since the turn of the century, according to a Washington Post analysis. Ohio has been particularly hard-hit. In 2017, the state had the second-highest rate of opioid overdose deaths, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.”

President Donald Trump pressured China to take stronger action against fentanyl production and export, and Beijing has at times highlighted its efforts, including the severe sentences imposed on some makers of the drug just before the coronavirus outbreak began.

In January, citing provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services reported 83,000 drug overdose deaths in the 12-month period before June 2020, “the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, and an increase of over 21% compared to the previous year.” 

One month earlier, the CDC said its data suggested an “acceleration of overdose deaths during the pandemic” and called out fentanyl as a primary driver. CDC tracked the increase in graphs.

Ohio saw overdoses spike “significantly” in May and June of 2020, DeWine said.

“They normally go up in April, May, June, but they certainly went up at a faster rate,” he said.

“We think it’s probably caused by several things, people being more isolated, more separated from other people, so using drugs more alone. So there’s no one there to use [overdose reversal drug] naloxone, or to call the emergency squad,” DeWine said.

Economic stress meant some people turned to substance abuse. Lockdowns meant people who relied on in-person support to battle their opioid problem could not attend group sessions. 

“You have support groups that were certainly not meeting in person during that period of time,” DeWine said.

For more of this interview, scroll down to our “At The Table” section.

What’s happening now

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said this morning that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) would be removed from the Judiciary Committee if allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her travel prove to be true. “Those are serious implications,” McCarthy told Fox News. “If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him if that was the case. Right now, Matt Gaetz says it’s not true, and we don’t have any information.” “McCarthy said he has not spoken with the Justice Department, which is investigating the allegations, or with Gaetz, who has denied the allegations and said his family is being extorted relative to the matter,” John Wagner reports.

The EPA will purge more than 40 outside experts appointed by Trump from two key advisory panels. Agency Administrator Michael Regan said the move will help restore the role of science at the agency, Dino Grandoni reports. “The Biden administration said the move is one of several to reestablish scientific integrity across the federal government after what it characterizes as a concerted effort under the previous president to sideline or interfere with research on climate change, the novel coronavirus and other issues.” 

Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade adviser, warned the then-president about medical supply shortages early in the pandemic, then pursued controversial deals after his warnings were ignored. Navarro “pursued his own ad hoc strategy that committed more than $1 billion in federal funds and has since prompted multiple probes, according to newly released documents from congressional investigators,” Dan Diamond reports

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is safe and effective in children as young as 12, the drug companies said. “Data from a trial of the vaccine in nearly 2,300 people between the ages of 12 and 15 will be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks, with the hope that vaccinations could begin before the next school year,” Carolyn Johnson, Erin Cunningham and Paulina Firozi report

Today is the third day of the former police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial in the death of George Floyd. “It comes after an emotional day in which several young witnesses, including a child as young as 9, took the stand to recount the harrowing scene on May 25. ‘I stay up nights apologizing to George Floyd,’ one of them said,” Holly Bailey, Timothy Bella and Lateshia Beachum report

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • Trump never made it to an Opening Day. Will Biden bring the tradition back?” by Frederic J. Frommer: “When the Nats kick off their season Thursday, President Biden won’t take the pitcher’s mound for the ceremonial toss, the team said Tuesday. But hopefully he will soon join a packed Nats Park to resume a century-old Washington tradition — and also to signify a return to sports as a unifying space in society, after Trump constantly used it as a wedge issue.”
  • In former Klan country, one Black woman decides she’s had enough,” by Rebecca Tan: “Cecil, Md., had long been a hotbed for white supremacists. The town of Rising Sun, a 20-minute drive from North East, was particularly notorious for its cross burnings and Confederate flags. In 1965, more than 2,000 people had gathered on a cow farm in the town to honor two Klansmen who had died. [Christine] Givens was 7 when she first encountered the Klan.”

… and beyond

  • The next Suez threat? A big hack,” by Bloomberg Opinion’s Victoria Coates and Robert Greenway: “While proposals for physical upgrades to the Suez are already being proffered, a less-discussed issue is that the current legal architecture governing the Suez is hopelessly antiquated and new mechanisms are needed to deal with modern vessels and potential threats. … We should use more modern authorities already in place that would allow the U.S. and Egypt to lead a new effort to leverage the collective strength of their partners and allies to secure the Suez Canal against threats ranging from terrorist and cyber attacks to accidental blockages.”
  • Why combining farms and solar panels could transform how we produce both food and energy,” by the Counter’s Chris Malloy: “Even as a fraction of the U.S. energy portfolio, solar power has already led to land-use conflicts, with proponents of solar starting to spar with farmers over land. Agrivoltaics help to solve that spatial dilemma. They allow a given area to harvest the sun not only once, but twice — as fuel for crops and as a source of renewable energy.”
  • BBC reporter leaves China, says ‘too risky to carry on,’” by the AFP: “John Sudworth told BBC Radio 4 in an interview that he had relocated to Taiwan after nine years in Beijing. … Threats from Chinese authorities had ‘intensified’ in recent months, he added. At least 18 foreign correspondents were expelled by China last year, during a tit-for-tat row with the US that decimated the international press presence in the country.”

The first 100 days

Biden's choice to pitch his $2.25 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan in Pittsburgh today is not a coincidence.
  • Biden is still rallying the swing-state’s voters: “Biden’s courtship of Pennsylvania traces back to the 2020 race: He started and ended his campaign in Pittsburgh and visited the state more than any other candidate — 19 times in five months — to sap its coveted electoral votes from Trump. Biden then returned to the state earlier this month to tout the American Rescue Plan,” Tony Romm, Marianna Sotomayor and Justin Sondel report.
  • “With infrastructure, Democrats say another legislative victory will provide a powerful local jolt, delivering jobs and other economic opportunities to steel and manufacturing hubs in Pennsylvania, benefiting its many union workers. Party leaders recognize the package would be a boon to their own prospects, as well, with an open Senate seat — and the fate of the party’s control of the chamber — hanging in the balance in 2022.”
  • Biden will make the pitch for one of two parts of his “Build Back Better” proposal that could total up to $4 trillion at a Pittsburgh facility used to train carpentry apprentices: “The location is intended to highlight a trade that could benefit from a plan that devotes more than $600 billion to rebuilding America’s infrastructure, such as its ports, railways, bridges and highways; about $300 billion to support domestic manufacturing; and more than $200 billion for housing infrastructure,” John Wagner reports.
  • This morning, White House press secretary Jen Psaki pushed back against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) claim that the economy is “getting better on its own” and that another “massive spending bill” is not needed. “I think the 10 million people who are still out of work would disagree,” she told CNN.
  • “The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is calling on Biden to include [35] provisions of importance to the Latino community in his new infrastructure proposal, including tacking on legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants,” Sotomayor reports. “It's unlikely [the citizenship provision] will make it into the two infrastructure proposals, given how divisive the issues remain in Congress.” Biden has yet to meet with the caucus since assuming the presidency.
Biden’s plan calls for larger expansion of the federal government’s role in transportation. 
  • “The plan appears to call for adding the money on top of existing federal spending on roads and transit, which at current levels would be about another $300 billion over five years,” Ian Duncan and Michael Laris report
  • “The breadth of the White House plan underscores the scale of challenges facing the nation’s transportation systems and the administration’s willingness to pour federal resources into meeting them,” our colleagues note. “The administration has talked of a $1 trillion backlog in transportation funding, which the plan, particularly when combined with state and local government spending, could do much to address. Still, the White House estimates the plan itself would only be enough to modernize 20,000 of the 173,000 miles of roads Biden has said need repairs.” 

Quote of the day

“Biden doesn’t have any room to stumble here, in the sense that the country needs this so desperately and can’t suffer another promise by more politicians that don’t deliver,” said Tom Conway, president of the United Steelworkers, who will join Biden in Pittsburgh.

At the table

Here’s the rest of our interview with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Knox: The pandemic has highlighted inequities in health care. You’ve called for investments in public health. If money were no object, what would be your top two or three investments?

DeWine: My world is Ohio. I’ve got 113 local health departments in Ohio that are semi-autonomous. Health care is delivered locally, at least it is in Ohio. I think, one, improving data collection in real time in all areas of public health. I think spending real money on advertising about public-health issues in very easy-to-understand persuasive ads. Three, just consistent investment in the public health structure.

What we’ve tried in Ohio is so many of the local health departments are really underfunded. Many of them do not have a levy that supports public health. Those would be three things that I think we need to do in the area of public health, without getting into specifics as far as this disease or this problem. You have to look at it holistically and look at how you improve public health.

We’ve got to talk about it more. Public health is there to protect us and we never think about it unless there’s an emergency. We have to start thinking about it even when there’s not an emergency. So many of the gains that we have made in life expectancy have come from the public health arena.

Knox: Can you illustrate for me the problems with data collection in real time?

DeWine: It’s always sort of a war between accuracy and speed for example, on cause of deaths. Health departments historically keep data in arrears. You can get pretty good accurate data of what happened two years ago, but that doesn’t really help you in real time.

Part of it is understandable. Let’s say someone dies, and you have an autopsy. Then the drug screen has to be sent to the lab. It’s not uncommon for six weeks to go by, two months to go by, before the drug screen comes back in some places, and then you get a cause of death. It’s tying public health into the hospital system the coroner system, the medical system. As much as the public thinks they’re all tied in together, many times they’re not.

What we’ve done during this pandemic is to tie the health department and our data people into the hospitals so that we now get real-time data every day from our hospitals. We get it from our emergency rooms.

It took a while to build that, and we built it slowly, it wasn’t in existence before the pandemic. So for example, I can look down today and see, in regard to covid, which direction we’re heading in emergency-room visits where people are complaining of symptoms that are consistent with covid. I can do the same thing in regard to doctor visits and see those numbers. Those are early indicators, as well as lagging indicators like hospital admissions.

We’ve built this system out of necessity over this last year but it really should exist in regard to all kinds of things in public health. Looking at deaths caused by flu, some states don’t keep that data. It’s something you probably need to know when you’re making policy decisions about where you put resources knowing how many people every year of flu is probably a relevant fact. It may influence how you advertise how you make vaccines more available.

Having good data in real time is vitally important because we now have the ability to reach people in real time, through the Internet, through the 24-hour news cycle. But many times our data isn’t as good as our ability to get it out, or not as timely as our ability to get it out.

The longer I’m in public service the more I’m convinced that just knowing the facts in real time is just so very important. Public health is a prime example of how we generally don’t have data in real time, and if we did it would help us make policy decisions and would help us inform the public.

More on the pandemic

Beijing is pushing back against criticism of its joint coronavirus origin report. 
  • “A day after the release of a controversial WHO-China joint report on the coronavirus’s origins, Chinese members of the team said at a press conference in Beijing that the coronavirus wasn’t proven to have originated in China, and the international community should consider the possibility it came from another country,” Eva Dou reports. “Liang Wannian, leader of the Chinese side of the WHO-China team, was chilly on the prospect of further probes in China, saying they should only take place as needed.” 
As tensions with China grow, the Biden administration formalized a genocide declaration against Beijing. 
  • In an annual human rights report, the administration declared China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims a genocide, John Hudson reports. While the Trump administration had officially declared the situation a genocide during its waning days, the Biden inclusion of the word in its report formalizes the outlook as an official U.S. assessment, experts noted.

Hot on the left

Child sex trafficking charges against a former Florida GOP rising star sparked the Justice Department investigation into Gaetz. An investigation into former GOP official Joel Greenberg, who often flaunted his connections to Gaetz and Trump, sparked the DOJ investigation into allegations that Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, Katie Shepherd reports

Greenberg was charged with stalking and child sex trafficking last year. It’s unclear exactly how Greenberg’s criminal case is connected to Gaetz’s investigation. The two rose to prominence in the Florida GOP around 2016. Greenberg had a tumultuous time in office, which culminated in allegations that he made fake IDs to help “facilitate his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts,” according to a federal indictment.

Hot on the right

“Two Capitol Police officers who battled the mob of Trump supporters that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 are suing the former president for the physical and emotional injuries they say they suffered in the attacks,” Andrea Salcedo reports. “Officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby allege that for months, Trump rallied the insurrectionists with baseless election fraud claims that eventually culminated in the breach.” 

Biden circuit court judges, visualized

Biden announced his first slate of judicial nominees on Tuesday, boosting diversity in federal courts, Ann E. Marimow and Matt Viser report.

Today in Washington

Biden will head to Pittsburgh to pitch his new jobs plan. He will speak at 4:20 p.m.

Vice President Harris will stay in D.C. to meet with a faith group to discuss efforts to encourage people to get the vaccine. 

In closing

Jimmy Kimmel explained the difference between “fascism” and “communism” to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.):

Tomorrow is Opening Day, and here are some of the changes fans fortunate enough to return to the Nationals Park this season can expect, according to our colleague Scott Allen:  

  • Fans will sit in pods that are six feet apart.
  • Fans 2 years and older are expected to wear a face covering at all times. 
  • No cash will be accepted at parking, ticketing, concessions or retail.
  • Air filters have been installed in indoor places and bathrooms now have touchless flushing systems. The park now also has touchless condiment dispensers.