For months, there’s been speculation about when, and whether, the Trump administration would declare the opioid crisis a national emergency. Two weeks ago, speaking from one of his golf resorts, Donald Trump accepted the recommendation of his opioid commission and used the words many in the public-health community wanted to hear.
“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially, right now, it is an emergency,” Trump said from Bedminster. “It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.”
Trump’s use of the word “officially” stood out because of its procedural significance: when a president makes an official emergency declaration, a series of steps are supposed to kick into action. NBC News reported at the time, “Experts said that the national emergency declaration would allow the executive branch to direct funds towards expanding treatment facilities and supplying police officers with the anti-overdose remedy naloxone.”
That was two weeks ago. NBC News reported today that the president “hasn’t formally signed such a declaration and sent it to Congress,” which is the step necessary for action.
Northwestern University law professor Eugene Kontorovich said Trump was not breaking any new ground when he announced a national emergency but said “such a declaration does have to be transmitted to Congress in writing.”
“Relevant monies won’t be released until such a thing is signed,” Kontorovich told NBC News. “Usually presidents will announce something and sign it at the same time as a photo-op kind of thing. I say usually because Trump is famously more extemporaneous than a typical president.”
Indeed, it’s the president’s reputation for “extemporaneous” policy pronouncements that leads one to wonder whether Trump meant to “officially” declare a national opioid emergency last week, or whether he just blurted out a thought that came to his mind.
NBC News’ report added that a White House spokesperson “would not say when Trump would get around to” transmitting the written emergency declaration to Congress.
And while the significance of the crisis and the administration’s woeful response to it obviously matter a great deal, let this serve as a reminder: Donald Trump says all kinds of things, but there’s no reason to assume they reflect reality.