McDonough: Obama's Going to Get Heroin Epidemic 'Back in the Box'

Susan Jones | January 11, 2016 | 5:49am EST
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In this Jan. 20, 2015 file photo, President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill as Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio listen. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

( - "We are seeing an epidemic of heroin and opioid abuse in this country," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on Sunday. "The president's going to get that back in the box," he told ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopolous.

He said the same thing on "Fox News Sunday," but did not give details on either show about how the president plans to address the nation's heroin epidemic.

The topic came up on several of the Sunday shows when McDonough was asked dabout actor Sean Penn's interview with Mexican drug lord El Chapo in October. Penn interviewed El Chapo after he broke out of a Mexican prison, and now Penn himself reportedly is under investigation.

CNN's Jake Tapper asked McDonough if he had read Penn's interview with El Chapo.

"I have not read the interview, but I have read a lot of the coverage of the interview. And one thing I will tell you is that this braggadocios action about how much heroin he sends around the world, including to the United States, is maddening," McDonough said.

"We see a heroin epidemic, opioid addiction epidemic in this country. So, we're going to stay on top of this, with our Mexican counterparts, until we get that back in the box. But El Chapo is behind bars. That's where he should stay."

Tapper asked McDonough if the U.S. will make Sean Penn available to the Mexicans if they want to talk to him.

"Well, it poses a lot of very interesting questions, both for him and for others involved in this -- this so-called interview. So, we will see what happens on that. I'm not going to get ahead of it."

McDonough told ABC's Stephanopoulos he was "appalled" by El Chapo's bragging about the heroin epidemic sweeping the U.S. "I was appalled by his bragging to the interviewers in 'Rolling Stone' that he moves more heroin than anybody in the world."

Preceding McDonough on "This Week," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said it's "fantastic" that El Chapo is back in custody, but he was very critical of Sean Penn.

"And, you know, if one of these American actors, who have benefited from the greatness of this country, who have made money from our free enterprise system, want to go fawn all over a criminal and a drug trafficker in their interviews, they have a constitutional right to do it. I find it grotesque," Rubio said.

Stephanopoulos asked McDonough about Rubio's comment.

McDonough said that Rubio and other Republicans should stop trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, "which has done more for mental health treatment and addiction treatment and substance abuse treatment than anything that we've seen in decades.

"And that's the kind of real policy question I'm focused on today. We'll let somebody else sort out what Sean Penn did and didn't do. El Chapo is where he should be. He should stay there. And we got to get this heroin off American streets."

McDonough made the rounds of the Sunday shows to promote President Obama's Tuesday night State of the Union speech, which the White House says will be different from other addresses.

McDonough told NBC's "Meet the Press" with Chuck Todd that Obama does not want the speech to be a "list of policy choices. "What he wants to do is talk about a vision for the future of this country. We feel like we can win this future, we feel very optimistic about the future.

"That's a big difference between us and what's going on in this public debate right now and that's what you'll hear about on Tuesday night."

McDonough told ABC's "This Week" that Obama on Tuesday night wants to "talk about the kind of country that he hopes will be present, not just during the course of this year and this election year, but rather over the course of the next 20 years. And he feels very optimistic about this future. And that, by the way, is something that's a little different than some of the doom and gloom that we hear from the Republican candidates out there every day."

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