Sununu headed to Washington to meet with President Trump about opioid crisis

  • Gov. Chris Sununu talks to members of the press the afternoon after the House Finance Committee's proposed budget failed to pass at the State House in Concord on April 5, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Thursday, October 26, 2017

Gov. Chris Sununu will appear at an event dedicated to the opioid crisis at the White House this week, he said Wednesday.

Details surrounding the event, set for 2 p.m. Thursday are unclear; the White House has not made a formal announcement. But after Trump promised the event in comments last week, speculation has risen that the president plans to declare a national opioid emergency, which could result in more federal money available to states.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Sununu said he is unaware whether the president will make that declaration, but added that the trip would be valuable either way.

“The invitation alone means that the president understands the issues that we’re facing here,” Sununu said. “He understands that we are innovative as a state, and he wants us to be part of that solution.”

During his trip, the governor said, he intends to also address the plight of an Indonesian immigrant community in Dover facing deportation. On Friday, Sununu sent a letter to the president requesting leniency for the group, many of whom arrived in the state in the 1990s.

Speaking about the trip, Sununu said he was eager to have the president’s ear.

He took a swipe at New Hampshire’s senators and congresswomen for what he deemed a lack of effort on the opioid crisis.

“Being the governor and having a real advocate in the White House, working with this administration is worth so much right now,” he said. “And I wish our congressional delegation would do more to step up to be part of the problem-solving process, but we’re happy to do it. We have great expertise in terms of the issues facing the state, and we’re going to keep advocating for the state.”

Members of the state’s all-Democratic delegation were quick to push back. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan were also invited to the White House ceremony and both plan to attend, their staff members said.

In a statement, Shaheen appealed to bipartisanship.

“It’s disappointing to see the Governor inject partisan politics into the issue,” she said. “Families across New Hampshire who are losing loved ones are pleading for us to work together to save lives.”

Pointing to her record, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter said she has recently written to the Trump administration to change the allocation formula so New Hampshire can receive more federal funding to fight the opioid crisis.

“It is disappointing to see the Governor break New Hampshire’s tradition of bipartisanship in the fight against opioids,” she said. “We don’t have time to play politics on this – people are dying.”

Still, Shea-Porter did not restrain her own fire.

“He is serving his first term so he is new to the fight, but the congressional delegation has worked to increase awareness, funding, and access to treatment,” she said of Sununu.

Staff members for other members of the delegation responded along similar lines. A spokeswoman for Hassan called the criticism “unfortunate” and pointed to Hassan’s past meetings with the president’s opioid commission. Spokeswoman Ricki Eshman said Hassan has supported many of the commission’s findings and that the president had yet to act on them.

Rep. Annie Kuster staffer Nick Brown touted Kuster’s creation of a bipartisan opioid commission in 2015 and pushed against Sununu’s comments as well.

“The opioid epidemic is not a Republican or Democratic issue,” Brown said.

It is unclear what Sununu’s involvement at the meeting will entail. In a September meeting with Trump to discuss regulatory reform, Sununu and other governors appealed to the president to consider making changes to the funding allocation formula for opioid-related money.

A spokesman for Sununu said Wednesday evening that the governor’s staff was “still finalizing” a schedule of events for the governor, “including additional meetings with administration officials.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at