Senate Approves National Defense Bill With Tools Against Chinese Fentanyl

June 30, 2019 Updated: June 30, 2019

WASHINGTON—When President Donald Trump signs the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2020, China could face new pressure to live up to its as-yet-unfulfilled promise to crack down on exports of the deadly drug fentanyl drug to the United States.

The 973-page NDAA, which the Senate adopted June 27 in a rare 86–8 show of unanimity in the upper chamber, authorizes $750 billion in national security spending, including provisions to:

  • Require imposition of sanctions on drug manufacturers in China that knowingly provide synthetic opioids to traffickers, transnational criminal organizations such as those in Mexico that mix fentanyl with other drugs and traffic them into the United States, and financial institutions that assist such entities.
  • Authorize waivers for countries that take sufficient action to implement and enforce regulations on synthetic opioid production.
  • Authorize new funding to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the departments of Defense, State, and Treasury, to combat the foreign trafficking of synthetic opioids.
  • Urge Trump to launch diplomatic efforts with U.S. partners to establish multilateral sanctions against foreign synthetic opioid traffickers.
  • Establish a commission on synthetic opioid trafficking to monitor U.S. efforts and report on how to more effectively combat the flow of synthetic opioids from China, Mexico, and elsewhere.

The provisions were first introduced in the Senate earlier this year as the Fentanyl Sanctions Act, cosponsored by 20 senators, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

A similar bill is under consideration in the House of Representatives, where it also has bipartisan support following its introduction by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.).

The House may get to a vote on its version of the NDAA in July, but whenever it acts, there will likely be multiple differences with the Senate measure that will have to be worked out in a conference committee. Once that process is finished, the final version will go to Trump for his signature.

“We must hold China, currently the world’s largest producer of illicit fentanyl, accountable for its role in the trade of this deadly drug. Our Senate-passed, bipartisan sanctions bill will do just that,” Schumer said in a joint statement with Cotton.

“The opioid crisis has claimed tens of thousands of lives and devastated families and communities across the country. In New York state, from November 2017 to 2018, approximately 2,000 people died from an opioid overdose. About 1,500 of those deaths were from synthetic opioids like fentanyl.”

Cotton described China as “the world’s largest drug dealer,” because it “has allowed fentanyl and other synthetic opioids to pour into the United States for years, killing tens of thousands of Americans.

“Our law enforcement and intelligence agencies need additional resources to target the fentanyl producers, traffickers, cartels, and other criminals who are funneling this poison across our borders and into our communities,” Cotton said.

While Trump was in Japan for the G-20 summit, a foreign ministry spokesperson for China said the NDAA’s multiple provisions that are viewed as anti-China “will harm U.S.–Sino relations,” according to Reuters.

China agreed during informal talks at last December’s G-20 meeting in Argentina to classify fentanyl and multiple derivatives of it as controlled substances. But Chinese officials deny that their country is the source of much of the fentanyl entering the United States.