House member lacks the facts when asked about proposed border wall resolution

Construction continues on a new section of barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border on Jan. 8, 2019, as seen from Tijuana, Mexico. President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency because Congress did not approve of $5.7 billion in funding to build a border wall. Photo by Mario Tama | Getty Image

State Rep. John Becker is a big supporter of spending more government money on border security. He’s less interested in doing the homework to learn about the subject.

A trio of Democrats spent 15 minutes grilling the Clermont County Republican about border issues, after he’d come to provide sponsor testimony for his Ohio House Resolution 55. The resolution would “urge Congress to appropriate funds to build a physical barrier along the southern border of the United States.”

Had Becker ever been to the southern border? No.

Had he spoken to his Congressional representative about the subject? No. 

How much of the southern border is already covered with a fence, and how much more does Becker think should be covered?

“I don’t know the answer to either one of those questions,” he replied. 

Rep. John Becker, R-Union Twp.

Becker has made headlines in the past for his lack of research into the subjects he attempts to legislate. In December, he spurred controversy by proposing legislation that would ban insurers from covering abortion services. It allowed for an exception if the procedure reimplanted an ectopic pregnancy in a woman’s uterus, which is considered to be medically impossible.  

Becker told The Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper that he had never researched the procedure before including it in his bill. 

In his opening sponsor testimony to the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee, Becker cited the opioid crisis as a major reason for the need to beef up border security. 

“This chronic problem is partially due to our nation’s inability to secure our southern border,” he said, “as drugs continue to flow into our country at rapid rates.”

Did he know, Rep. Juanita Brent of Cleveland inquired, where most of the heroin in the United States originates from? 

“Frankly, I don’t know,” Becker answered, adding that he’d heard from news reports that it originates from all over the world. 

Brent did know ⁠— 90 percent comes from Afghanistan. 

“I don’t know. I’ll give you that,” Becker said. “It’s probably true. The question then is how does it get from Afghanistan to Ohio?”

Becker answered his own question. He wasn’t sure.

“My office can do some research on that and find out,” said Becker, who first introduced this House Resolution more than 10 months ago. 

“Just because they’re manufactured or they’re grown in other parts of the world,” Becker continued, “doesn’t mean a substantial portion of them aren’t going through Mexico and then up north through the southern border to get into the United States.”

Rep. Juanita Brent, D-Cleveland

Brent then asked if Becker knew what percentage of illicit drugs come through America’s legal points of entry, as opposed to drugs smuggled in through the southern border with Mexico.

Becker again said he didn’t know. Brent again did, pointing to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s own statistics that are readily accessible via a cursory web search.

“Most drugs are seized at ports of entry, not along the open border,” The New York Times reported last year, using data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. Brent cited these statistics in noting that 90 percent of heroin is in fact seized at legal borders, compared to just 10 percent between the ports of entry. Cocaine, meth and fentanyl have similar figures. 

“I’ve actually been to the southern border of the wall,” Brent said. “I’m surprised you haven’t, since you say you wanted to encourage Congress to put more money toward this.”

Brent suggested that Becker’s focus on border security reflects misplaced priorities.

“If we’re putting more money toward a wall,” Brent asked, “why aren’t we urging Congress to put more money toward our education system, which we badly need money for, or putting money toward our public transit system, which we badly need money for … I’m trying to figure out where in the line of priority within our country did that become more important than taking care of people with health care issues and our education for our schools.

“We’re having a full recess because we’re getting ready to do EdChoice,” Brent said at the Jan. 28 hearing, “but you’re putting a bill about a wall.”

Becker defended the federal government’s allocation of border funding as being necessary to protect national security. In contrast, he said that as a “strict constitutionalist” he believes that more federal funding toward the issues Brent mentioned would be unnecessary.

“Many would argue (the federal funding is) simply unconstitutional to begin with,” he said.

Fellow Democratic Rep. Stephanie Howse of Cleveland continued the questioning. 

Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland

“In looking at the make-up of your district, it is pretty homogeneous. Ninety-five percent white,” Howse said.

Howse described being “really, really confused” at the connection between the southern border, the opioid crisis and Southern Ohio, given the countering statistics provided. She asked how the issues at the border connect to Becker’s own 65th District. 

“Each of us as representatives would need to poll our own people, and we know our House districts, and whether this is something our people want to do,” Becker said. “I am bringing this forth because the people of Clermont County want this.”

Becker provided a secondhand anecdote to back up this claim. He described a recent “Trump 2020 rally” held in the “back room of a restaurant” that was attended by several elected sheriffs from Southwest Ohio.

“I wasn’t actually at the meeting, I was out of town, but what I was told by multiple sources is that there was this ruckus of a chant of ‘build the wall, build the wall, build the wall,’ to the point where the manager of the restaurant had to come in and tell them shut up or they’re going to call the police,” Becker said.

“I’m telling you that story,” he continued, “because it’s just an indication of how widespread this issue is in my House district and throughout Clermont County.”

The Capital Journal reached out to Greg Simpson, the Clermont County Republican Party chairman. Simpson said he wasn’t at the gathering but had heard about it. He said the subject has not been raised at Clermont County GOP’s official meetings. 

A group called “Clermont for Trump” did host an event in early January at a local pizza parlor in which Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones was the featured speaker. 

State Rep. Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park, later pointed to polling data that shows the American public is against the notion of more border fencing. In early 2019, a Gallup poll found that 40 percent of Americans approve of “significantly expanding the construction of walls along the U.S.-Mexico border,” while 60 percent are opposed. 

Brent suggested that Becker join her on a trip to the southern border to see it in person.