There’s plenty of political division and polarization in Washington, DC., but not when it comes to the opioid crisis, according to Sen. Pat Toomey.
“There are some states where this is not nearly the crisis that it is in Pennsylvania. But we’re certainly not alone,” Toomey said during a Tuesday visit to City Mission in Washington, Pa. The organization provides shelter and rehabilitative services to those struggling with opioid addiction.
As a sign of how concerns about opioids cross party lines, the Republican Toomey pointed to legislation he’s sponsored with Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, of Alabama.
“We don’t agree on many things," Toomey acknowledged. But "I look for areas where we agree and try to make progress, and this is one that he and I both see exactly the same way.”
Toomey said the legislation aims to dissuade countries from exporting fentanyl to the United States through a series of penalties that will make the process “prohibitively expensive.”
First-term Republican Congressman Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, who represents Southwestern Pennsylvania, also attended the event and is a cosponsor of similar legislation in the House.
“There’s not going to be one silver bullet that solves this epidemic,” Reschenthaler said. “Part of it is criminal justice reform, a paradigm shift in the way we address pain management – it’s going to be a lot of different things.”
But on some other topics the two Pennsylvania Republicans parted ways. Take President Trump’s recent decision to declare a national emergency at the southern U.S. border, after Congress passed a spending bill that didn't provide the funding he wanted for a border wall. The declaration has drawn criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, who worry it sets a dangerous precedent.
Reschenthaler supported Trump's move.
“I think there’s precedent for where this has been used several times in the past," he said. “If you want to take a look at the statute and say it’s too broad, that’s one thing, but we’ve got to do something to stop the illegal drugs flowing into the United States.”
Toomey was less enthusiastic, calling the declaration "unfortunate."
“I was hoping this would be resolved through a legislative process, rather than an emergency declaration," he said.
Sen. Toomey said he expects a resolution in Congress to counter the President’s emergency declaration. But he wasn’t sure when such a proposal might be introduced, and he declined to say he would support it.
“I’m still evaluating the actual legal basis for the President’s decisions,” Toomey said. “It’s complicated. There are various sources of funds the President appears to be intent to draw on. I want to evaluate the legal basis for those decisions.”
The two Republicans also split on expanding background checks for gun sales. A proposal in the House would expand background checks for all gun sales, a concept Toomey has backed with legislation of his own in the past.
Reschenthaler, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, recently voiced his strong opposition to the bipartisan House bill, saying the legislation wouldn’t solve gun violence, but is instead just a first step in creating a national gun registry.
“This is one of the things where Congressman Reschenthaler and I just disagree,” Toomey said. While he wouldn’t comment on the specific legislation, Toomey did reiterate his support for broadening background checks for all commercial gun sales online and at gun shows.
“I am in an ongoing effort to speak with my colleagues – especially Republican colleagues – to see if there might be more support than we’ve had in the past,” he said.