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N.H. Politicians Push Back On Trump Reportedly Calling The State A 'Drug-Infested Den'

Donald Trump speaks to supporters after being declared the winner of the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, in February 2016. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Donald Trump speaks to supporters after being declared the winner of the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, in February 2016. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
This article is more than 2 years old.

New Hampshire politicians on both sides of the aisle were quick Thursday 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.

Citing a transcript obtained from a January phone call between the two leaders, the Washington Post reported that Trump told Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, "I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den."

(The president did comfortably win the New Hampshire Republican primary but narrowly lost the general election 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.

Republican 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,” Sununu said. “We have doubled our resources to support prevention, treatment and recovery; dedicated millions to law [enforcement's] 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 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.”

This story was first published by New Hampshire Public Radio.

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