Republicans call for Biden to push Mexican president to combat fentanyl smuggling

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With Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador heading to the White House next month to meet with President Joe Biden, Republicans are calling for combating the flow of fentanyl into the United States to be at the top of the agenda.

Lopez Obrador skipped the Summit of the Americas earlier this month, saying instead he will travel to the White House in July to meet with President Biden. 

Republicans think fentanyl should be Biden's first topic of conversation.

"If I were looking at an agenda that I think would be appropriate for that meeting, fentanyl would be at the very top of the list," Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., said in an interview with Fox News Digital. "Human trafficking would come right after that — border security and national security issues that we share with Mexico."

Republicans are calling on President Biden to push the president of Mexico on the issue of cartels bringing fentanyl into the U.S. when the two meet next month.

Republicans are calling on President Biden to push the president of Mexico on the issue of cartels bringing fentanyl into the U.S. when the two meet next month. (AP/Reuters)

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"It would be the first thing I would bring up," added Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas. "And I wouldn't be talking about much else besides, ‘What are you going to do for the United States of America with respect to knocking the knees out from under cartels and stopping the flow of, not just fentanyl, but the illegal traffic and human traffic coming into the United States, which is emboldening the cartels and allowing them to bring fentanyl in?’ We have dead Americans directly as a consequence of what Mexico is allowing [the cartels] to do."

Southern border seizures of the drug, which is 50-100 times more potent than morphine and can be fatal in tiny amounts, have soared in recent years. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized 10,586 pounds of the drug in FY 2021. That is up from 4,558 pounds seized in FY 2020 and 2,633 pounds seized in FY 2019.

As of May, the CBP has seized more than 7,000 pounds of the drug in fiscal year 2022, suggesting it is on track to exceed last year’s massive numbers. While the seizures of the drug reflect success in apprehending the drug by agents, it also raises the possibility that — amid a massive surge in activity at the border since President Biden took office — a large amount is also getting past agents.

While it is unclear how much fentanyl is getting into the U.S., the number of deaths related to the drug is increasing. The Drug Enforcement Administration warned earlier this year of a "nationwide spike" in fentanyl-related overdoses. 

The agency cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics that, in a 12-month period ending in October, there were more than 105,000 drug overdoses, 66% of which were related to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

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"Fentanyl is killing Americans at an unprecedented rate," DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement.

Officials say the drug, which often kills by being laced into another drug without the user knowing, is now primarily brought in through the land border with Mexico after being produced with precursors from China.

However, so far this year, the topic does not appear to have been raised in talks between President Biden and the Mexican leader. The pair spoke virtually in April, and it did not come up then, according to a readout of the call, which said supply chains, trade, infrastructure and tools to manage "regional migration surges" were all on the agenda.

A direct reference to either cartels of drug smuggling was missing from the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration at the Summit of the Americas earlier this month. In related announced commitments, which included a slew of funding and migration-related commitments by the U.S., there was no Mexican commitment to cracking down on the cartels or smuggling of fentanyl into the U.S.

In response to a query from Fox News Digital, the White House highlighted a number of initiatives the administration has taken to tackle the opioid crisis, including a national drug strategy that includes targeting drug trafficking, a U.S.-Mexico framework that includes preventing transborder crime, and a FY 2023 budget proposal that calls for a $42.5 billion investment in agencies for national drug control programs, as well as $293 million for CBP to prevent fentanyl coming across the border.

The White House has also successfully pushed the U.N. to ban precursor chemicals, and Biden himself issued two executive orders on the matter – one which established the U.S. Council on Transnational Organized Crime and another which modernized the government's ability to target those organizations involved in drug trafficking, as well as their enablers and financial backers. This year, meanwhile, Mexico has so far extradited 10 individuals to the U.S. for drug trafficking and related activity – three of whom are cartel operatives.

"In his first State of the Union, President Biden called on the Nation to come together and beat the opioid epidemic as part of his Unity Agenda. His National Drug Control Strategy is focused on going after the two key drivers of the crisis: untreated addiction and drug trafficking, which includes working with all our international partners to reduce the supply of illicit drugs," Dr. Rahul Gupta, the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in a statement. "And his budget request calls for a historic increase in funding for our Customs and Border Protection who risk their lives doing the hard work of securing our border every day. When issuing his Executive Order on sanctions, President Biden declared that international drug trafficking, including fentanyl and other synthetic opioids coming from Mexico, constitutes an extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States. And the President is addressing this crisis head on."

Rep. John Katko, the ranking Republican member on the House Homeland Security Committee, was one of a number of Republicans calling for it to be addressed at the meeting between the two leaders, telling Fox News Digital in a statement that the U.S. "will not get a handle on the fentanyl pouring into the country unless Mexico comes to the table."

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"Right now, China is selling precursor chemicals and pill presses to the Mexican cartels who are making synthetic opioids in droves, while raking in millions of dollars a month," he said. "This is why I am calling on President Biden to address this public health emergency when he meets (Lopez Obrador) at the White House next month.

Katko noted Mexico’s involvement in the North American Drug Dialogue meeting, which he called a "critical venue for collaboration and dialogue on how to address the significant trafficking of drugs across the Mexico border." 

"I’d advise President Biden to highlight how Mexico’s involvement would be mutually beneficial to both countries," he said. "The volatility caused by the cartels on the Mexico side of the border will have long-term, detrimental impacts on the stability of Mexico as a country. Additionally, Mexico must do more to seal its southern border and stop making it so easy for migrants to travel through their country and to the U.S. southern border."

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who has been sounding the alarm about the effects of fentanyl in the Sunshine State, also told Fox News Digital that Biden should use the meeting to push Lopez Obrador for assistance.

Recently seized counterfeit pills made of Fentanyl.

Recently seized counterfeit pills made of Fentanyl. (DEA)

"While President Biden will rarely mention fentanyl — because then he would have to acknowledge his abject failure to secure the U.S.-Mexico border as well as the fact that his policies are emboldening the violent drug cartels smuggling record amounts of opioids into our country — he should at least take advantage of this opportunity to demand assistance from President Obrador in dismantling the cartels and snuffing out the synthetic opioid labs in his country that are killing hundreds of Americans, even children, every day," Moody said.

Hagerty said law enforcement officials in Tennessee are telling him that they are seeing an increased number of overdoses and deaths related to fentanyl, and he accused the administration of wanting to ignore the problem entirely.

"I've been trying to raise it constantly, and I have never heard the word fentanyl come from Joe Biden's mouth. He and the White House want to ignore one of the biggest catastrophes associated with the collapse of our southern border," he said, calling the border situation "the greatest national security crisis that faces us today."

Republicans have proposed a number of measures that the U.S. can take to push back against the cartels. Roy has been calling for years for both the Biden and Trump administrations to put the cartels on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list. 

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, have both introduced bills to declare fentanyl a weapon of mass destruction.

Roy said that designating the cartels as FTOs would achieve multiple goals.

"One, to elevate them in the consciousness of the American people that they're our enemy, and they need to be destroyed," Roy said. "Two, to give our law enforcement personnel and our government the tools and the power that is necessary to cut off their finances, to then go after American people who are providing them material support — if you're an American citizen helping a cartel member, then you need to go to jail — and do the things that are necessary to knock their knees out from under them."

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, has called for putting the drug cartels on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. 

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, has called for putting the drug cartels on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.  (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc)

Roy said the U.S. needs to stop "coddling" Mexico, accusing officials of being "on pins and needles" with their neighbors to the south. His message to Mexico was blunt: "How about you get your s--- together and stop letting cartels run your country?"

Mexico has faced criticism for its policies regarding cartels and drug smuggling from the U.S. Earlier this year, the bipartisan Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking warned that the policies of the Mexican government have not been successful in tackling the challenge of fentanyl trafficking, which it says has shown to be a more profitable alternative than heroin for Mexican traffickers.

"The Mexican government, in part out of self-preservation and in part because the trafficking problem transcends current law enforcement capacity, recently adopted a ‘hugs not bullets’ approach to managing the transnational criminal groups," the report said. "However, such approaches have not been able to address trafficking issues, and further efforts will be needed."

However, Hagerty, who has held meetings with top officials in the region, told Fox that the Mexicans are also frustrated by the situation, with the foreign minister telling Hagerty that the border crisis was making Mexico weaker and the cartels stronger.

"They've got now a massive security problem at their southern border. They have people coming through in caravans. They don't know who they are," he said. "Foreign Minister Ebrard was very clear with me that this situation has been precipitated by our White House, has also precipitated a massive national security problem for them. They don't like it. And, every day, they're getting weaker in terms of their relative ability to deal with the cartels."
 

Adam Shaw is a politics reporter for Fox News Digital, with a focus on immigration. He can be reached at adam.shaw2@fox.com or on Twitter: @AdamShawNY