NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a co-sponsor of legislation criticized as checking federal power to stop companies from distributing opioids, is calling it “absurd” to suggest she return contributions from big drug companies that supported the new law.

Blackburn, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of Republican Bob Corker next year, tells The Tennessean that her involvement with the bill came out of an effort to ensure people who needed the prescription drugs were able to get access to them while also cracking down on illicit opioid use.

Following a report by The Washington Post and CBS’ “60 Minutes” about the law, the measure’s chief sponsor, Republican Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, withdrew as President Donald Trump’s nominee as drug czar.

When the a top Drug Enforcement Agency official spoke out against the bill in 2014, Blackburn accused him of trying to “intimidate the United States Congress” and asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate. He retired the following year.

But Blackburn told The Tennessean that the effects of the law are not yet clear because the DEA hasn’t submitted a study that that was due in April.

“We cannot say that was the result because they will not give us the report,” Blackburn said.

But if the law proves to be an impediment, Blackburn said she would work to revise it.

“If there are unintended consequences, we will fix it,” she said.

A Tennessean review of campaign finance reports found Blackburn has received at least $96,000 in contributions from political action committees affiliated with or representing the largest manufacturers and distributors of opioids since 2012. Blackburn bristled at questions about whether those donations fueled her interest in the new law or whether she should give the money back.

“You know what, that is absolutely absurd,” she said.

Former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, who is opposing Blackburn in the Republican Senate primary, was quick to criticize her for her role in passing the bill.

“This is why we’re so interested in running for this seat to make sure that Tennesseans have a voice against special interests and what’s going on in Washington,” Fincher told the Chattanooga Time Free Press last week.

The attention to the opioid enforcement bill came after string of early success for Blackburn, who had announced her bid for the Senate within an hour of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision to beg off of the race.

Blackburn’s professionally produced campaign video took aim at fellow Republicans in the Senate for failing to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law, showed footage of her shooting a gun and featured her calling for a “conservative revolution.”

Her video received another round of heavy attention when Twitter briefly blocked the Blackburn campaign for paying to promote it on the social media platform because of statements the congresswoman’s made about the sale of fetal tissue for medical research.

Twitter said her comments in the video that she “stopped the sale of baby body parts” was deemed inflammatory and likely to cause a negative reaction among users. Blackburn was quick to denounce the decision in public statements and fundraising appeals, and Twitter soon reversed course.

But she has since had to fend off questions about opioids.

“I don’t think ’60 Minutes’ and opioids were in the script,” said longtime Republican political consultant Tom Ingram.


Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com