WASHINGTON--Five years ago Gov. Blagojevich wanted to put himself on a presidential track and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) handed him a hot issue that gave him national press exposure, importation of prescription drugs. Now the Blagojevich-Emanuel relationship is in the spotlight in the wake of the governor's arrest last week on corruption charges. Wiretaped conversations caught Blagojevich allegedly trying to sell President-elect Obama's vacant Senate seat. In one episode related in the criminal complaint it seems that Emanuel, Obama's incoming chief of staff, apparently told a Blagojevich staffer about an "approved list" of people Obama wanted to replace him. Blagojevich, who hoped to parlay an Obama approved pick to a cabinet seat, ambassadorship, or a big union job, in the tapes is upset that Obama did not want to give him anything for the seat except "appreciation."
Back on Dec. 24, 2003, I wrote about the Emanuel-Blagojevich alliance on the importation measure, "Politically, it put Blagojevich on the popular side of a consumer issue and could fuel his possible presidential ambitions. The January issue of Money magazine named Blagojevich one of its people to watch'' next year for setting the stage for a 2004 showdown.''
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December 24, 2003 Wednesday
Blagojevich, Emanuel lead push for imported drugs
They are the medicine men. More so than others, freshmen Gov. Blagojevich and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) have put the issue of importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada on the national political and health policy agenda.
The two, who will mark a year in office next month and have a knack for scoring headlines on this one, have been relentless in pressuring the White House to find a safe, legal way to allow cheaper drugs from Canada to U.S. medicine chests.
Now the White House faces a rebellion that goes further than Blagojevich and Emanuel could have imagined: The GOP governor of New Hampshire and the Democratic mayor of Boston say they will break the law and start buying drugs from Canada.
"This is not an issue that the Bush administration or [Health and Human Services Secretary] Tommy Thompson wants to cave on," said Bill Knapp, Blagojevich's Washington-based political strategist.
It's going to become a thorny matter for the White House going into an election year because it will be a challenge for the president's team to separate the science and public health concerns from the populist politics.
Since the importation focus is on Canada, safety questions are harder for the Food and Drug Administration to raise because U.S. consumers probably figure they would have heard by now if Canadians were getting sick from their own bad pills.
Emanuel latched on to the issue earlier in the year when he became a co-sponsor of a drug importation bill. Though he was not the first on the legislation, he was the one who orchestrated a successful congressional and media strategy to get it passed on a bipartisan roll call in the House, though it never was incorporated into the new Medicare prescription drug law.
Blagojevich realized Emanuel handed him a gift when Emanuel urged him to take up drug importation because Illinois could save millions of dollars by buying Canadian drugs for state retirees and employees.
Politically, it put Blagojevich on the popular side of a consumer issue and could fuel his possible presidential ambitions. The January issue of Money magazine named Blagojevich one of its people to watch'' next year for setting the stage for a 2004 showdown.''
The governor asked the FDA in September for permission to legally buy Canadian drugs and, anticipating a rejection, launched a national campaign to organize other cash-starved governors and local officials to keep the heat on the FDA.
The FDA, throughout the Clinton and Bush administrations, has not allowed foreign drugs in the United States because they could be counterfeit, old, or mislabeled.
The new Medicare bill did provide for the Health and Human Services Department to study drug safety over the next year.
Blagojevich, who has vowed not to break the law, seized on that safety study language Monday to ask Thompson to let Illinois run a pilot importation project.
The FDA already all but officially said no to his request, saying the new law made no provision for any such pilot study involving the purchase and distribution of Canadian drugs in the United States.
The Bush administration sees Blagojevich and Emanuel as demagogues.
Blagojevich is inviting the nation's 49 other governors -- all told there are 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats -- to a drug importation summit in February. Won't the Bush team have to put more on the table than a year-off study? Blagojevich, said Knapp, is calling their bluff.''