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Senator Rob Portman On The Tariff And “The Stop Act”

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Senator Rob Portman joined em this morning:




HH: Back from vacation, and I asked Danielle to set up my first day back with Rob Portman, Senator from Ohio, because I want to talk about the Stop Act. Little did I know that when I was gone, the President would announce sweeping universal tariffs on steel and aluminum. Now Senator Portman, like me, is an Ohioan, and so he cares about the steel industry. But were you surprised, Senator, by the breadth and sweeping nature of this?

RP: Hugh, I was surprised by the fact that it was broad-based. I was not surprised that he used this tool called Section 232, which is the national security attempt to give our steel companies and aluminum companies a little breathing room. I think that’s appropriate. But I think it can be done in a targeted way, and I figured that’s what he would do. For instance, Canada is our number one importer of steel to this country. They’re a great ally. They don’t pose a national security threat in that sense. And I don’t believe they’re selling their product at below their cost, which is dumping or subsidizing it illegally. So you wouldn’t want to pick on them. And yet, they would be subject to this, just one example. But we do need some help. You know the situation as well as I do, because Hugh, you an Ohioan still, despite spending a lot of time on those two coasts. But here’s the deal. With electrical steel, there’s a company in Ohio, Zanesville, Ohio, AK Steel. They make this product. They’ve had 100% increase in their imports in the last year. It’s the last remaining U.S. company that makes this kind of steel. It’s the steel that’s necessary for our grid, because it’s used in transformers. You want to protect, you know, the ability for the United States to make its own electrical steel. So that’s an idea that sort of would lead you to a more targeted approach to say, well, with regard to electrical steel, let’s target on those countries that are adding to this 100% increase in imports in the last year and trying to push us out of this business. So I think there are ways to do it and using the scalpel, shall we say, rather than the axe.

HH: Well, that’s, I told everyone when I was in Costa Rica, then on Twitter and online, that he campaigned on taking actions against China on intellectual property, on dumping. He campaigned on NAFTA. But he did not campaign on this.

RP: Yeah.

HH: And I’m hoping he is open to changing. Do you think he is?

RP: I think he might be. There’s some stories this morning that they might be looking at being a little more selective about it. The other reality is that although again, some of our steel businesses need some breathing room here, and China definitely is trying to dominate the world steel market, in other words, 15 years ago, they had 15% of the market. Today, they’ve got over half of the steel production in one country, much more than they would need for their own uses. They do sell it at below their cost. They do subsidize it. So those things need to be addressed, that overcapacity. But retaliation is easier from other countries, and probably the WTO, the World Trade Organization, would deem it to be appropriate if you don’t take into account, you know, the specifics. In other words, again, I use the example of Canada. If there is no allegation of them using unfair practices like selling it below their cost, which is dumping, or subsidizing it illegally, and it’s not a national security threat, then it would be harder to push back against a retaliation, in other words, them adding big tariffs on some of our products.

HH: Now Senator, let’s turn to the Stop Act., good sponsor to the program, got Dr. Bill Bennett to make a video about this. You and I have talked about it a number of times. But the Stop Act could not be more relevant. On vacation, I read Jonah Goldberg’s new book about the crisis that America faces. One of the aspects of that crisis is a generation that is being hollowed out by synthetic fentanyl. What would Stop do, the Stop Act, do?

RP: Well, first, thanks for your focus on this issue over the years, Hugh. And yes, in our state of Ohio and around the country, the new risk, the new danger is this synthetic form of opioids called fentanyl, or carfentanyl. And unbelievably, it’s coming in from other countries by our U.S. mail system. And the Stop Act is very simple. It says okay, let’s stop the postal service from allowing this poison to come into our communities without checking these packages. You can’t check them now, because for the most part, there’s no information about these packages, where they’re from, what’s in them, where they’re going. If you’re Fed Ex, DHL, UPS, you have to provide all that information. Therefore, law enforcement can identify suspect packages. With the post office, there is not that ability. As a result, the bad guys, the traffickers, are using our U.S. postal system. We know this, because we just did a year-long study of it. The websites that were willing to sell fentanyl online, and by the way, it’s scary what’s going on, all said the same thing. Send it by the post office. Send it through the U.S. postal service, we’ll guarantee delivery. If you send it through a private carrier, we cannot guarantee delivery. So all we’re saying to the post office is this is a national crisis. Come on, let’s modernize our post office. Let’s use this advanced electronic data to our law enforcement officials so that they can help us stop some of this poison from coming into our communities.

HH: You know, Senator, I keep handy a November 3rd, 2017 article from the Columbus Dispatch – Prosecutor: Three men caught with enough fentanyl to kill all the residents of Columbus. They had 4.5 pounds of fentanyl, which is, you know, when you cut it, it really is enough to kill everyone in Columbus.

RP: It’s scary. You know, the fact is a few flakes of this can kill you. It’s 50 times more powerful than heroin, as bad as heroin is. And there’s so many stories, Hugh. You know the one about East Liverpool where the police officer pulls over a couple of guys. They have white powder strewn around their car. They tried to hide the fentanyl. Wisely, he put on a mask and gloves, arrested them, and as he was booking them down at the station, he is talking to his colleagues. He looks down at his shirt, sees a few flakes of something white, you know, takes his hand and flecks it off his shoulder, immediately, you know, falls to the floor unconscious, has to be revived three times with Narcan, overdoses, his, police said he would have been dead had they not been right there. Think of this guy going home and hugging his kid. I mean, that’s how powerful this stuff is. It just touched the tips of his finger, and he overdosed. And we have lots of examples of young kids, you know, going to someone’s home, one, a 12 year old going to a sleepover in Columbus and dying of a fentanyl exposure that somebody left out. So this is dangerous stuff for first responders, obviously, for a community, for kids, families. I mean, it’s, we’ve got to get on it.

HH: Now let me also ask about country of origin. It is primarily China, though I understand a lot of it is also being synthetically created in Mexico. Is there no response from the Chinese government? This is not something you can really hide in this kind of production capacity. We’re talking about hundreds of pounds were seized in Baja the week before I left, hundreds of pounds. So it’s not really something that’s secret.

RP: No, it’s not, and we’ve taken them to task on it. I was actually in China last year at about this time, and met with two of the top four leadership over there, including Premier Li, and raised this specific issue and told them this was absolutely outrageous that they were allowing this poison to come into our communities without cracking down more on the precursors to it, you know, the way in which these chemical companies make it. They have done more to make illegal some of the precursors, you know, the chemicals that go into it. They have said they’re cracking down more. But honestly, they need to do more. We have indicted some Chinese nationals, and they have not extradited them, and my understanding is they have not been prosecuted. So we know most of it is coming from China. We know what’s being produced in these chemical companies by some evil scientists, but you’re also right, Hugh. You know, if we were to be more successful in cracking it down in China, I believe it would shift, and it’s starting to shift somewhat to chemical companies in Mexico. There’s so much money in it, and it’s so horrible what it’s doing to our communities and to our families, and it’s the new threat. More people died in Ohio last year from fentanyl than heroin and prescription drugs combined. 58% of our overdoses were from fentanyl.

HH: Now I don’t believe you’ll ever see people arguing oh, let’s just, it’s a harmless drug, let people do what they want, let’s, like dope, let’s decriminalize it. They’ll never get there on fentanyl. So the question becomes prohibition doesn’t work often. How is the technology going to advance, and how is the treatment going to advance to deal, it’s a tidal wave. When people, when I tell people the numbers, that it’s larger than AIDS was at its largest moment, they don’t believe me. But it’s true, and you’re the first guy when we sat down in the Applebee’s or wherever it was we had lunch, you were the first guy to tell me about this. And I didn’t quite believe you. But since I dug into it, 64,000 people died last year, and as you just said, more than half are fentanyl.

RP: Yeah, 64,000 more than we lost in the entire Vietnam War in one year from overdose deaths. Yeah, it’s, it is overwhelming. Three things – one, we need to do better on the supply side, and that’s this Stop Act and other things to keep it out. But two, and more importantly, we need to do much more on the demand side – prevention, education, you know, letting these people know who are dabbling with this stuff, this is going to ruin your life and potentially kill you. And then third, on the treatment side, you’re right. Our treatment, it is not where it should be. There’s a new facility in Columbus that I just visited, and it was partly funded through the federal grants we got done last year, you remember the Care Act and the Cures Act. And what it does is it deals with this gap in treatment where if somebody overdoses, they go to an emergency room, they’re saved with Narcan. Our first responders are incredibly effective and brave, and they’re doing a good job. That same person goes back to the community, the environment the person was in before, they’re overdosing again. Talk to your firefighters in whatever community you live in, you’ll hear this story that they’re helping to save people again and again. How do you stop that gap? How do you get people from overdose into detox, into treatment, into longer term recovery to turn their lives around, because there are so many great examples of that happening? Unfortunately, the vast, vast majority of people are not doing that. They’re falling into that gap. So in Columbus, they have the detox unit and the treatment center right there with the emergency room. The emergency room focuses on overdoses. EMS personnel are all encouraged throughout the entire city to bring everybody to this one place. In the first month of operation, 80% of those who came in with an overdose ended up going into detox and treatment. And that is a terrific number, because it is at least the converse of that, probably even worse in terms of the other emergency rooms. So there are some strategies out there, Hugh, to get people into treatment. And then we need better treatment drugs and therapies to be able to get people through treatment and into longer term recovery, which we know is critical to success. It’s not just you know, an 8-10 week treatment program, but this longer term, some sober housing, some support from other peers who have been through this and counseling. So it’s a complicated issue, but like so many others, you know, this is one where we need to come as Americans together with solutions, not partisan solutions, but non-political solutions to solve this thing before it’s chewing up, Jonah Goldberg said in his book, we lose an entire generation.

HH: You’re going to kill Democrats and Republicans, independents and people who don’t care about politics. I think the demand side might be more susceptible to education on this because of the innocent bystander effect. You know, most drug proponents who argue for decriminalization argue there is no victim. There are lots of victims with fentanyl who have nothing to do with the drug. Sure, there are people who overdose, but as you said earlier, the East Liverpool cop, there are lots of victims who have nothing to do with it. I think that message walks, doesn’t it, Senator?

RP: Yeah, I think it does. The other part of this that I think people need to realize is in Ohio, the number one cause of crime in every one of our counties is this issue, and probably in your community if you’re listening today, it is, too. You should talk to your law enforcement about it. In other words, it affects all of us, because it’s theft, it’s shoplifting, it’s fraud. When you have a $400 dollar a day habit, let’s say, and you have no job, what do you do?

HH: Yeah.

RP: Well, you tend to engage in crime. Second, again, firefighters, the EMS personnel, police officers, they’re spending an inordinate amount of time on this. And again, you go into your fire station, talk to your firefighters and ask them what they’re spending their time on, they will tell you they’re making more of these overdose runs than they are fire runs by far. So it does affect all of us as taxpayers, as citizens wanting to live in a safe community. And then finally, talk to the people who took a prescription drug that a doctor told them was safe to take, and became physical addicted. Something changed in their brain. This is a disease, remember, and then ended up having this craving, going to heroin because it was less expensive, or fentanyl, because it was more accessible, and then overdosing and dying. So this is not a typical cocaine-type or marijuana even type story. This is more about, and I’m not saying some people don’t choose to take the drug at a party, but for a lot of people, they get into this through the prescription drug. The overprescribing has taken hold in this country over the last decade and has caused a lot of this pain.

HH: Senator, thank you so much and good luck on getting the Stop Act through. I appreciate you taking time with me my first day back. The Stop Act, follow Senator Portman on Twitter to follow news about that.

End of interview.


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