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Pointing to seized fentanyl, GOP’s Stefanik picks the wrong fight

Elise Stefanik didn’t just push a weird complaint in response to drug seizures at the border, she did so in the midst of her party’s debt ceiling crisis.


I can’t say with confidence who was the first Republican to complain about the Biden administration successfully stopping illicit drugs at the border, though Rep. Andy Biggs was certainly among the first. It was nearly two years ago when the Arizona Republican complained via Twitter, “Under Joe Biden, enough fentanyl to kill 238 million Americans was seized at the southern border last month. Where’s the outrage in the media?”

Even at the time, it was odd to see a member of Congress complain about drugs being seized before they could reach American soil. The only folks who had reason to be “outraged” were drug dealers.

In the months that followed, this nevertheless became an oddly common criticism of President Joe Biden and his team. Every couple of months, from the Republican National Committee to the halls of Congress to the presidential campaign trail, the more the administration seized drugs, the more Republicans complained for reasons that never made a lot of sense.

Yesterday, House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik joined the GOP chorus with this tweet:

“Since Joe Biden took office, over 34 THOUSAND pounds of deadly fentanyl has been seized at the southern border. That is enough fentanyl to kill every person on the planet. We must pass the Secure our Border Act to ensure a nation that is SAFE.”

White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates asked a couple of years ago, “Wait, Republicans are now attacking us for stopping fentanyl trafficking?” Evidently yes, and those criticisms have become one of the GOP’s more frequently used talking points for reasons I’ve never been able to explain.

Ordinarily at this point, I’d make the usual spiel about how strange it is that Republicans don’t seem to know what “seized” means — a phenomenon that remains genuinely odd — but in this specific instance, it’s not the only problem.

Indeed, what was striking about Stefanik’s line of criticism wasn’t just its self-defeating qualities, but also its poor timing. Fox News reported late last week:

The White House on Friday doubled down on its warning that [the House Republican’s debt ceiling bill] would hurt border security, leading to thousands of job losses at Customs and Border Protection, as the sides spar over the economy and how to deal with the ongoing migrant crisis.

The White House’s Bates issued a written statement late last week with a headline that read, “House Republicans vote to cause a recession unless they can fire 2,000 Border Patrol agents.”

The deputy press secretary added, “Let that sink in. With this week’s vote, House Republicans looked their constituents in the eye and said that they are willing to single-handedly trigger a recession unless they can fire thousands of Border Patrol agents.”

To be sure, GOP lawmakers would likely respond that their debt ceiling hostage note doesn’t explicitly single out border security for specific cuts, which is true. But as we’ve discussed, such cuts would effectively be inevitable as part of the Republicans’ demands not to deliberately impose an economic catastrophe.

In other words, the House GOP conference chair didn’t just push a weird complaint in response to drug seizures at the border, Stefanik did so in the midst of her party’s debt ceiling crisis, which includes a Republican plan that would put funding for border security at great risk.

This is not a fight the GOP should expect to win on the merits.

This post revises our related earlier coverage.