Voices From Both Parties Push Back on Trump's Reportedly Calling N.H. A 'Drug-Infested Den'

Aug 3, 2017

New Hampshire politicians on both sides of the aisle were quick to condemn comments President Trump reportedly made during a conversation with the President of Mexico earlier this year about the Granite State’s opioid epidemic.

(Note: This story was updated to include the reaction of Kriss Blevens, an advocate who participated in a roundtable with President Trump just before the election.)

Citing a transcript obtained from a January phone call between the two leaders, the Washington Post reported that Trump told the Mexican President, “I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den.” (The president did comfortably win the New Hampshire primary but narrowly lost the general election here to Hillary Clinton.)

Sen. Maggie Hassan, who previously served two terms as governor, was the first major state official to weigh in on that report. In a series of tweets, Hassan called Trump’s comments “disgusting” and called on the president to “work across party lines to actually stem the tide of this crisis.” 

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, meanwhile, demanded an apology and said the president should do more to follow through on his earlier promises to take action on the issue.

Gov. Chris Sununu, in a statement released by his office, also pushed back.

“The President is wrong,” Sununu said. “It’s disappointing his mischaracterization of this epidemic ignores the great things this state has to offer.”

The governor also pointed to steps he’s taken to address the crisis since taking office.

“Our administration inherited one of the worst health crises this state has ever experienced, but we are facing this challenge head on,” the governor added. “We have doubled our resources to support prevention, treatment and recovery; dedicated millions to law enforcements efforts to keep drugs out of our state, increased the availability of naloxone, and are rebuilding our prevention programs for our kids.”

Other Republicans condemning the president’s alleged comments include veteran strategists Tom Rath (who called the comments “outrageous”) and Jim Merrill (who said the statement was “classless and clueless”).

Rath was a top adviser for John Kasich’s primary bid in New Hampshire, and Merrill was a top adviser to Marco Rubio. Both have also been openly critical of a number of Trump’s actions during his time as a candidate and since he took office.

As a candidate in both the primary and general elections, Trump pledged to take action to address New Hampshire's opioid issues — often pointing to his plans to build a wall at the southern border as a key step toward stemming the flow of drugs into the country. 

And this isn't the first time Trump's characterization of New Hampshire's opioid crisis has provoked a strong local response. At one rally last fall, he expressed surprise that the issue could be so severe in such an idyllic setting.

“You know what really amazed me when I came here and I got to know so many people? So many are in the room, so many great friends — they said the biggest single problem they have up here is heroin,” Trump said at the time. “And I said how does heroin work with these beautiful lakes and trees?”

A leading local drug prevention organization, at the time, said those comments were “uninformed and not reflective of the work that needs to be done in the Granite State to address the current health crisis.”

Update: An advocate weighs in

Kriss Blevens might not have agreed with how the President allegedly chose to describe New Hampshire’s opioid crisis — but as far as she’s concerned, his sentiment is spot-on. Blevens threw herself into fighting the state’s opioid crisis after losing her stepdaughter, Amber, to a heroin overdose in 2014.

"If he calls New Hampshire a drug-infested den, I would say Kriss's way of describing the same concept would be that we are in a state of emergency and our people are dying,” Blevens said. “It is the same thing. It is saying the same thing with different words. And it is true." 

Two years ago, she called on New Hampshire officials to declare a state of emergency over the crisis — a step she thinks is still needed, today. She was also part of a small group of advocates invited to take part in a roundtable on the issue with Trump himself, just before the election.

“I passed him a handwritten letter. I looked him in the eye and said please read this,” she recalled. “And my cry for desperation, for helping us, was in that letter. And he took it, he put it in his breast pocket, and he left. Two weeks later, he won the presidency.”

Since then, she’s heard nothing directly from the administration. And she’s been disappointed that the administration hasn’t done more to engage with people in New Hampshire who are eager to lend their experience to this issue.

“Reach back to the little people, because we have the answers,” she said.

Blevens said there are a lot of people like her, in New Hampshire, who are more than willing to help.