Kellyanne Conway Given Leadership Role on Key Task She’s Totally Unprepared to Handle

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, has been leading weekly meetings at the White House with officials across a dozen federal departments to develop a plan to respond to the opioid crisis and to implement recommendations from a presidentially appointed commission, she and other officials told STAT.

The “opioids cabinet,” as the group is known, is intended to help streamline efforts across the government and includes staffers from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, among other executive branch offices.

In an interview with STAT, Conway said she and other administration officials have also been urging Congress to appropriate additional funding for addiction treatment and prevention programs. She pushed back on the notion that the White House is not allocating sufficient resources to combat the opioid epidemic, citing ongoing conversations with budget director Mick Mulvaney.

Conway and other administration officials have barnstormed the country since the start of the year to talk with state and local authorities about the opioid epidemic, in many cases returning to states where the candidate Trump listened to pleas for help from communities struggling with the opioid crisis. But in her role in the White House meetings, the longtime political consultant is playing a more active part in helping to shape policy.

She is doing so at a time when there are leadership vacancies at HHS and the Drug Enforcement Administration; the administration also currently does not have a “drug czar.” The White House has been criticized for delegating a significant policy role to Conway, who has no prior experience working on addiction issues or as a policymaker. But Conway said she is unbothered by the perception that she is serving as a sort of stand-in for the formal agency heads.

“I’m no substitute for that,” Conway said. “Those are incredibly important roles and I think the men currently in those jobs as acting directors are really doing excellent jobs of making sure there’s seamless activity.”