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President Trump and HHS Secretary Alex Azar. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Republicans on Capitol Hill have done little to publicly support the Trump administration's plan for drug prices — which some strategists see as a mistake, given the public fury over the issue.

Why it matters: There's still plenty of time for Hill Republicans to talk up the White House plan. But if they don't, it could be a missed opportunity to make it clear to voters ahead of midterms that they're serious about tackling prescription drug prices – especially given that the plan is relatively industry-friendly.

Between the lines: Several Republicans, including important committee chairmen, issued statements saying they were pleased the administration is working on drug prices. But they've been quiet about it since then, and many members said last week that they were still reviewing the plan.

  • Instead, House Republicans spent the week trying to pass a partisan farm bill, which failed on the floor because of GOP infighting over immigration. The Senate had its hands full with a controversial confirmation vote.

What they're saying: "The politics of this is simple: Congressional Republicans have a chance to stand with Trump and deliver for consumers. Standing with big pharma against Trump seems like political suicide if you're a Republican in Congress," said Alex Conant, a former aide to Sen. Marco Rubio who now runs a strategy firm (which has clients that favor policies that pharma opposes).

  • "Republicans should be applauding the President's leadership on drug prices and rushing to vote on any legislation that reduces drug prices. If Congress doesn't follow the President's lead and do something to address drug prices, it's going to be a problem in November," Conant continued.
  • Another GOP strategist agreed: "President Trump’s radar is tuned into an issue that resonates with almost every voter in a big way and other Republican candidates should echo."

On the other hand: There's still plenty of time for Congress to jump on board, and leadership suggests there's interest in doing so.

  • "Any time you take an issue like that on, there are lots of opponents from special interest groups out there, but I think it’s the right thing to do and I would hope that we could sync up with them on what they’re doing," said Sen. John Thune, a member of GOP leadership.
  • "The proposal was just released, and I think members are getting their heads around it," said Rep. Tom Cole, who is close to House leadership. While he expects hearings on the plan and greater congressional support, legislation is less likely because "it’s a very complex area and it’s getting late."

Yes, but: Some Republicans are aware that even if they support the plan, Democrats will attack them for not going far enough. And the party is generally wary of making an enemy of the pharmaceutical industry, fearing they would weaken innovation — and potentiallythe industry's campaign contributions.

  • "Trump has opened the door a little bit but for most Republicans, you're going to have to pick one friend at the expense of others," one GOP lobbyist said. Pharmacy benefit managers are a private-sector way of keeping prices down "and they like Phrma so the two big players are both friendly to the GOP. Lowering drug prices requires them to hit one or both sides."

Go deeper

Toyota to build $1.3 billion U.S. battery plant in North Carolina

The all-electric Toyota bZ4X, the company's first battery-electric vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on Nov. 17. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Toyota announced Monday it's investing $1.3 billion to construct an electric vehicle battery "megasite" near Greensboro, North Carolina, set to open in 2025.

Why it matters: Toyota's Prius hybrid won environmental plaudits when it launched in 1997, but it has since lost ground to electric vehicle world leader Tesla, per Axios' Joann Muller. This battery plant will be the first to produce automotive batteries for Toyota in North America.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress hunts for shortcut to pass defense funding, debt limit combo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to his office Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The scramble in Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is being complicated by an effort to tie it to a needed hike in the federal debt limit.

Why it matters: The House and Senate are rapidly coming up against a series of deadlines they must address before the end of the year — or risk disrupting crucial military funding and upending the economy. Congressional leaders are now hoping they can knock out both "must-pass" priorities in one, complex swoop.

Scoop: Inside Jake Sullivan's call with U.S. hostages' families

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke last week with relatives of U.S. hostages and others wrongfully detained abroad, after more than two dozen families expressed frustrations about their inability to get a meeting with him or President Biden, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Participants on the video call, which began at 7pm ET Friday and lasted more than an hour, told Axios they didn't get satisfactory answers to many of their questions. Nonetheless, they were encouraged by Sullivan's commitment to follow up and pledge to be personally available to them and others going forward.

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