5:22 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. This is very important to all of us gathered here.
We’re pleased to be joined by many of the members of Congress as we take an important step to halt the flood of deadly drugs that are pouring into our country like never before. It took place two, three, four years ago. It’s at a level that people haven’t seen over the last few years.
In a few moments, I’ll sign the INTERDICT Act. This law directs the Department of Homeland Security to provide additional tools and resources to detect and intercept the supply of illicit fentanyl, which is our new big scourge. It’s disgraceful what’s happening — coming from different countries including, frankly, China and others.
And it’s pouring in at record numbers. In 2016, nearly 20,000 Americans died as a result of using synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Each death is a tragedy, leaving behind devastated parents, spouses, and orphans all over our country.
It’s reaching every corner of our great nation and it shouldn’t be. Rural areas like Hancock County, Ohio — and we have Senator Portman here and he understands it very well. Where’s our Senator?
SENATOR PORTMAN: Over here, Mr. President, yeah.
THE PRESIDENT: What is going on in Ohio is incredible —
SENATOR PORTMAN: Yeah, thanks for your support.
THE PRESIDENT: — and, frankly, just about every other state. And Kankakee County, Illinois has seen record numbers of overdoses, record numbers of deaths due to drugs.
The supply of these deadly drugs come from places outside the United States — Mexico, China, other countries. Drugs are entering our country across our borders and even through our own postal system. They’re using our postal system and they’re killing our people.
This law will provide our customers and our customs — what we want is customs and border protection. We have to have customs and border protection, which is desperately needed. And we have the resources to detect and interdict these dangerous drugs.
The drugs, for a lot of reasons, are far more dangerous than they’ve ever been. Even the dogs can’t track them down. If they track them, they die. The dogs die just from the scent. Nobody’s ever seen anything like it. So you imagine what it does to people.
It will increase the number of chemical screening devices, as well as the number of experts to interpret the data that’s collected.
My administration is committed to doing everything we can to combat this deadly scourge of drug addiction and overdose. This law represents a significant step forward. I think, before we sign — we have great congressmen and women, we have great senators behind me, and maybe we’ll start with Rob, and we’ll go around a little bit if anybody would like to say anything.
SENATOR PORTMAN: Well, first — thank you. First, we appreciate your support of pushing back. This deadly poison is coming into our communities through the mail system primarily — primarily through China — and this legislation will enable us to have better equipment to detect it.
But it’s something that is absolutely urgent. It’s the number one killer now, in terms of overdoses, in my state of Massachusetts, where Senator Markey is from — the original author of this legislation. And, unfortunately, over the past several years, it has increased every single year.
So this will help and we appreciate your willingness to step forward and take a lead on fighting back against this poison that’s coming into our states.
THE PRESIDENT: And, you know, it’s getting worse and worse every year. You look at the charts, you look at the statistics — every year. The country fights hard. I mean, not just since I’ve been here; it’s been fighting hard, and it gets worse and worse.
And what’s your recommendation? Senator, what’s your recommendation?
SENATOR MARKEY: Well, this is going to go a long way. These devices are actually able to detect fentanyl because they’re coming through in packaging.
And, in Massachusetts, like Ohio, it’s an epidemic. In 2016, 2,000 people died from opioid overdoses; 1,700 of them had fentanyl in their system.
So this is the epidemic. It’s gone from prescription drugs to heroin, but it is now a fentanyl epidemic in the country, and the legislation you are signing will give the tools to our law enforcement, to our detection people in the country to be able to identify it before it gets into the hands of families in our country. So we thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s going to help. Hopefully, it will help a lot.
REPRESENTATIVE MCCAUL: Thank you for your leadership on this issue. It’s very lethal. It’s poisoning our children in this country, killing so many people. You’re empowering DHS and Customs and Border Protection to capture this before it gets in the hands of the wrong people.
In addition, I think a lot of these precursors coming from China are going to Mexico as well, which is why your border security efforts, I think, are so imperative.
REPRESENTATIVE GOHMERT: Amen.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’re really tightening that up. Unfortunately, it does come in from China. Much of it — I would say, a good percentage. What percentage would you say?
SENATOR MARKEY: I’d say 80 to 90 percent — because then it goes over to China, it goes to Mexico, and then it comes into our country.
THE PRESIDENT: And I was with President Xi, and I said, “don’t send it, don’t send it.” But we’ll see what happens. We’ll see what impact we’re having.
Ron, do you have anything to say?
REPRESENTATIVE DESANTIS: Well, Mr. President, you’re tough on borders, everyone knows that. And when you think about the illegal immigration, which is obviously part of it — but this, this is why I think people elected you, because they knew that you were going to take this drug scourge seriously. It’s taking a lot of American lives.
And so I applaud the senators and the congressmen for their support, and I applaud you for signing it.
THE PRESIDENT: All right, thank you, Ron.
SENATOR BROWN: Mr. President —
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Go ahead.
SENATOR BROWN: Eleven people a day, in my state of Ohio, die from opioid overdose. This is an important bill.
The next step is that we actually provide dollars to communities so we can scale up treatment. We woefully underfund education, prevention, and treatment programs. The waiting lists are too long. That’s the importance of Medicaid. That’s the importance — frankly, the Affordable Care Act. That’s the importance of funding local communities so that they can do what they need to do to deal with the terrible addiction that so many families face.
THE PRESIDENT: Senator.
SENATOR CAPITO: Yeah, I want to thank you, Mr. President. But I want to thank everybody here because I think of it as the human side — the families that are impacted, the young lives that are lost, the brothers and sisters that won’t have the brother and sister to grow up with.
But, as you know, and you said when you declared a public health emergency, we need a spectrum of solutions. This — stopping the flow or working to stop the flow of fentanyl — is absolutely critical, but other things are critical as well.
And so I think we’ve worked well together across party lines —
THE PRESIDENT: That’s true. That’s true.
SENATOR CAPITO: — across Senate and House. This is job one for us, I think, to make sure that we don’t lose another generation. So thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s very true.
REPRESENTATIVE WELCH: We’ve got to keep the fentanyl out, but we’ve got to build rural communities up. One of the biggest things we have to do long-term is restore economic vitality in rural America.
THE PRESIDENT: We all agree with that.
REPRESENTATIVE WELCH: Amen.
THE PRESIDENT: Senator, go ahead.
SENATOR JOHNSON: Well, again, I want to thank you. I want to thank all the men and women here. This is a classic example of bipartisan success because it’s something we agree on. So I think if we concentrate those areas of agreement, we need to have more of these kind of accomplishments.
I want to basically second what the Chairman McCaul said as well. These are shipped, yes, through the postal system, and Rob is working on a great bill too that we can hopefully stop that.
But they’re shipped into Mexico, and we have to secure our borders. So again, I think that’s a real opportunity. I think you showed that yesterday. You’ve got a lot of areas of agreement, in terms of border security and fixing the DACA problem as well.
So again, this is a classic example — concentrate in areas of agreement, you can accomplish some good things.
THE PRESIDENT: And your state has made some progress.
SENATOR JOHNSON: Yep.
THE PRESIDENT: Tough progress, but you’ve made some progress.
REPRESENTATIVE GOHMERT: I’ve sent enough people to prison for dealing with drugs like this, whether it’s sell — anyway, it’s really great to be part of getting a bill done that stops it from getting to that point.
And you combine that with the best neighbor — the best thing we could do for our friends in Mexico — stop their being used as, basically, a trampoline for drugs coming in here. And you cut off the 70, 80 billion dollars that’s used for corruption that goes to the drug cartels in Mexico, and they ought to be one of the top 10 economies in the world.
And best thing we could do is maybe build a wall where we need it, and secure the border. And Americans are helped without the drugs, Mexico is helped without the drug cartel money, and we’re much better neighbors.
THE PRESIDENT: And as you know, we’re going to build the wall. (Laughter.) And we really have no choice.
Anybody else like to say something?
REPRESENTATIVE TSONGAS: Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Thank you.
REPRESENTATIVE TSONGAS: I appreciate your celebrating this bipartisan moment. It’s a testament to what can happen for the benefit of the American people when we come together on a scourge such as fentanyl and the opioid addiction. And I encourage you to focus your efforts on further funding and thinking about opioids — and marijuana we can talk about at another time. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. That’s okay. That’s okay.
REPRESENTATIVE BABIN: Mr. President, I’m Brian Babin from Texas —
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I know.
REPRESENTATIVE BABIN: — and I’m a healthcare practitioner.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
REPRESENTATIVE BABIN: And, you know, fentanyl is basically an operating room drug. And it’s stunning to me that it would be to this extent.
But I want to thank you for your support. I want to thank the people who sponsored this bill. And I was very proud to vote for it. And thank you for helping to make our border secure, because this is just one symptom of the open border problem that we’ve had. And it’s the reason that you’re sitting behind this desk right now.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m very proud to say that we’re way down in the people coming across the border. We have fewer people trying to come across because they know it’s not going to happen. But we do need the wall, and we need more border security anyway.
But we are way, way down, and we’re also stopping other forms of entry such as airplanes and, you know, coming in through different ways. Even the ports — coming in through cruisers and cruise lines. And people are coming in ways that we’ve never even thought possible. A lot of bad people, a lot of drugs — and we’re stopping it.
But we’re increasing the numbers. You see it. You’ve all been a very big part of it. We’re increasing the numbers, in terms of getting it stopped and getting it stopped, ideally, permanently.
Anybody would like to say anything?
SENATOR SHAHEEN: Well, as has been said, and we can see by the people assembled here, if we work together —
THE PRESIDENT: That’s right.
SENATOR SHAHEEN: — in a bipartisan way —
THE PRESIDENT: I agree.
SENATOR SHAHEEN: — we can get the things done.
And this is a place where we can all agree that we’ve got to do more and where we work together. So I applaud everyone’s efforts.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I agree.
SENATOR HASSAN: And we have the STOP Act that might be a next step that Rob and I are working on. Yeah.
SENATOR PORTMAN: You mentioned the postal service. Unfortunately, our own U.S. Postal Service is the conduit for this fentanyl.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s true. A lot of it. A lot of it.
SENATOR PORTMAN: Yeah. They don’t go through FedEx, or UPS, or DHL because —
THE PRESIDENT: No. They go right through the good old-fashioned post office that loses about $6 million a year and delivers internet packages all over the place, okay?
SENATOR PORTMAN: We need to require them —
THE PRESIDENT: And they lose a lot of money. And you should make sure — while we’re at it, make sure the internet — they’re going to have to start paying sales tax because it’s very unfair what’s happening to our retailers all over the country that are put out of business.
Anybody else, yes?
REPRESENTATIVE BARR: One quick comment, Mr. President. Thank you for your leadership. Thanks to all these members who have worked in a bipartisan way to keep these lethal drugs out of our communities.
I come from Kentucky. Kentucky suffers from the third-highest drug overdose mortality rate in the country. Fetanyl and opioids is a big part of that.
One of the tragedies that we hear is not just from these families — these heartbroken families — but also from employers who don’t have the labor supply. These tax cuts that this President led on is going to help jumpstart the economy, but these employers need sober workers who can show up on time and pass a drug test. Keeping these drugs out of these communities is important for the productivity of our economy.
THE PRESIDENT: Very good. Have we covered — come on, what’s wrong with you? You’re being so quiet.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: (Laughter.) I was waiting for the last word if could get it. But it really comes down to this, and everybody worked here, well here together on a bipartisan piece of legislation that will definitely save lives.
But I wanted to compliment you for having a bill signing ceremony here with the press here to broadcast this out across the country. Because the very fact that we’re speaking to America, and you’re using your voice to speak to America, saves lives starting from this moment.
So I think there’s lives saved in the press conference and in the bill signing ceremony, as well as the function of the bill itself.
THE PRESIDENT: It’ll help. If it’s one life, it helps. But it’ll help.
REPRESENTATIVE BROOKS: Right. Mr. President, Susan Brooks, from Indiana.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sure.
REPRESENTATIVE BROOKS: And great to be here with you and the Vice President. I want to thank you so much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Susan.
REPRESENTATIVE BROOKS: But on behalf of law enforcement, fentanyl is impacting them on a daily basis.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s right.
REPRESENTATIVE BROOKS: They’re the ones — and our first responders, with our firefighters, EMT, and police — who are being impacted when they come upon offenders and people with fentanyl. And they, too, are actually suffering from overdoses.
And so this will actually have an impact on CBP officers, but also on our street officers. And this is such an important step forward to keep those drugs out of the hands of families, but also law enforcement who really are taking their lives in their hands by saving our lives.
THE PRESIDENT: Right, Susan.
REPRESENTATIVE BROOKS: Thank you so much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Susan. You know we used to have the “Age of Aquarius.” Everyone thought that was a big drug age. That was nothing compared to this. Believe me.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. President. Last year, you declared a public health emergency regarding opioid abuse and addiction. There’s not a state in the Union that hasn’t had families torn apart by this.
And I just want to take the opportunity, along with you, to commend these members of Congress for acting swiftly and in a bipartisan way, and to provide new resources to interdict the flow of fentanyl into the country.
And just know that I know how anxious you are to continue to work with members of Congress to stem the flow of drugs into our country and particularly deal with this crisis of opioid abuse.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Matt, would you like to say something?
REPRESENTATIVE GAETZ: I fear we’ve reached the point where everything has been said just not yet by everyone. So I’ll deal back, Mr. President. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, thank you, Matt.
So we’re going to sign this, and it’s a step. And it feels like a very giant step but, unfortunately, it’s not going to be a giant step because, no matter what you do, this is something that keeps pouring in.
And we’re going to find the answer. There is an answer. I think I actually know the answer. But I’m not sure the country is ready for it yet.
Does anybody know what I mean? I think so. Okay, folks.
(The legislation is signed.)
THE PRESIDENT: Who is getting this pen? Who is getting this pen? Can I ask for a vote? We’re going to get all of you a pen. I’m going to give it to a Democrat, okay? Shows you’re bipartisan. That’s bipartisan — when I give it to a Democrat. (Laughter.) And the Republicans told me to give it to a Democrat.
SENATOR MARKEY: Thank you, Mr. President. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody.
5:39 P.M. EST