WASHINGTON — Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) plans to deliver an address to a closed meeting of the drug industry’s powerful lobbying group on Thursday, a clear sign of the industry’s interest in courting the newly minted lawmaker.

Romney’s plans to speak at the upcoming board meeting of PhRMA — to be attended by CEOs from major drug makers like Merck, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson — were described to STAT by three drug lobbyists. He is scheduled to appear for 30 minutes.

While it’s not out of the ordinary for politicians of either party to address PhRMA’s board, Romney’s planned address comes at a time of heightened criticism of the industry and its pricing practices from President Trump, congressional Democrats, and, increasingly, from GOP lawmakers.

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A stronger relationship with Romney could be helpful to the drug industry in multiple ways. Chief among them: He already has a seat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which shares jurisdiction over health care in the Senate with the Senate Finance Committee. Romney also took over the seat vacated by Sen. Orrin Hatch, a longtime and reliable ally of the drug industry, who retired at the end of 2018.

The drug industry also already has a familiarity with Romney. Drug makers’ political action committees and employees donated more than $700,000 to his presidential campaign in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (Though they donated more to his contender, President Barack Obama.) Romney also played a key role in expanding health care coverage as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.

Romney isn’t the only thing on the group’s agenda. Two lobbyists who have seen the agenda for the meeting tell STAT the group will also discuss its ongoing communications strategy, as well as a number of potential policy proposals.

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One lobbyist told STAT that the board, as of now, is not set to vote on any policy proposals, but rather will hold a broader discussion about drug pricing regulations from the Trump administration and legislation like the CREATES Act, which is meant to encourage generic competition, and the SPIKE Act, which would require drug companies to justify large price increases to the government.

Spokesmen for Romney and PhRMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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