Billings, Montana - Vice President Pence at the RiverStone Health Clinic:
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Senator Daines. Thank you all for being here today. Please be seated. It’s my great honor to be here in Montana today with your senator, with your congressman, with all the leaders who are working every day to end the scourge of drug abuse and addiction here in Montana. And we will do this for the people of this great state and this nation. (Applause.)
It’s my great privilege to be here on behalf of President Trump. I spoke to him this morning, told him I was headed to Montana to speak on this vitally important issue. The President put it well. He said our administration, from its first day, would be committed to, in his words, “liberating our fellow Americans from the grip of drug addiction…once and for all.” And we are absolutely committed to this cause.
And I want to reflect today on the progress that we have been making. And I want to recognize the people who are with us today who are making such an incredible difference here in the lives of families that have been caught up in drug abuse and addiction here in Montana.
First and foremost, he is an author of critical legislation, the Child Protection and Family Support Act. He’s making an incredible difference — not just telling Montana’s story, but telling the story of drug abuse and addiction all over this country. Would you join me in thanking Senator Steve Daines for the great work that he’s done. (Applause.)
And his great partner on Capitol Hill, Congressman Greg Gianforte. I want to thank you, Congressman, for your strong support of this issue and on behalf — not just the people of Montana but people all across this country. Thank you for your partnership. (Applause.)
I’m honored to be joined today by your U.S. Attorney, Kurt Alme, who works this region for the Department of Justice. Kurt, we thank you for your great leadership and your great words in a briefing today, and all that you’re doing to bring to justice those that are profiting from tearing apart the lives of our families here in this region.
I also want to thank our host today here at RiverStone Health Clinic, the Rimrock Foundation. I want to thank your CEO, Lenette Kosovich. Would you give all these people that are really putting hands and feet on the compassion of the American people here in this great organization every day? Thank you all. (Applause.)
And as I just heard, Kristin just spoke some really powerful words in the back as we talked about stories of families here in Montana, children now fortunately in foster care who’ve received the aid of social services here in this state, who have benefitted by aggressive law enforcement that’s taken place, and now are on a new path in their lives and their families.
But Kristin — Kristin spoke some words that really moved my heart. And I want to say to all of you, as she just said to us: Montana, I know you have been beset in particular by meth abuse and addiction. According to the HIDTA Task Force commanders here in Montana, this state has seen methamphetamine — by far, the most prevalent drug in this state — it has driven offenses by more than 300 percent over the last four years. We just heard about impacts on Indian reservations nearby where property crimes, crimes against persons are skyrocketing in the last four years.
But I want to speak a word of hope and confidence about the progress we’re making together. As Kristin just said: We can turn this around, Montana. (Applause.) And we will for the sake of our families and our state and our nation.
And I believe we are turning it around. And I believe we are turning it around. The moving stories that Kristin just shared with me, the fresh start in children’s lives. And it’s remarkable to think that some 80 percent of children that are entering the foster care system here in Montana are the result of families caught up in drug abuse and addiction. And the vast majority of that is methamphetamine.
And I’m here to tell you that working — working with our partners here across the state of Montana, working with your great delegation in Washington, D.C., we are bringing a whole-of-government and a whole-of-community approach to confronting this challenge. And I want to assure you that we’ll continue to do just that.
The truth is, it will take a combination — as Senator Daines just said so well — of education, of law enforcement, and also healthcare treatment, intervening and coming alongside people that have been caught up in the grip of drug abuse and addiction. And we’re doing all of that.
It all really does begin with moments like today where we have an opportunity for our neighbors and friends to know what’s happening, to understand, if this hasn’t impacted their family, it’s impacted people that they know.
I literally just got a phone call this week from a dear friend in Ohio who lost his son to a drug overdose this week. Wonderful young man. The last report I got about him was that he’d been — he’d been clean for a year and a half. But then I got word that he lost his boy. And I called him up, and we wept together on the phone. And Karen and I prayed through last week as he laid his son to rest.
There’s stories like that all over this state. And the human cost is real. And I want to assure you that we’re bringing the full resources of the federal government to bear against those who would profit from the drug trade and bring such heartache to our families and our communities.
And we’re especially proud of what’s known as the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program. HIDTA is making a difference here in Montana. And we are grateful for the service represented by all of you in this room. (Applause.)
I’m proud to say the HIDTA program has forged an unprecedented cooperation between federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials from the FBI, the DEA, to city police chiefs like the chief that’s here with us today and county sheriffs. And it’s made an incredible difference.
The HIDTA program, working with local law enforcement, has been intervening as never before. In our first year in office, I’m proud to report, men and women of HIDTA — many of whom are with us here today — broke up smuggling rings with ties to major transnational criminal organizations; disrupted and dismantled more than 2,700 drug trafficking and laundering organizations. And, all told, HIDTA helped seize more than $16 billion in illegal drugs that were stopped from making their way to our communities and to our families and our children.
So on behalf of your President, on behalf of the American people, I say to all the men and women of HIDTA here in Montana: Thank you for your service. You’re making a difference. (Applause.)
And we’ll continue to make that difference. We’ll continue to surge resources and partner with courageous law enforcement personnel like those I just heard from a few short moments ago.
But the truth is, as Senator Daines said so well — and I heard him say it on Capitol Hill in a forum where many of the members of the Senate were gathered — here in Montana, it’s important to understand that you’re a northern border state with a southern border problem. Because when you look at the tremendous flow of methamphetamine, which is highly toxic, highly purified, that vast majority of that is moving across our southern border from Mexico.
And as people here in Montana know — and this President and our administration know — we have a crisis at our southern border. In the month of May alone, 144,000 people came across our southern border illegally and were apprehended, or turned themselves into border agents and made asylum claims. A hundred thousand of those people were actually families with children — dependent children — with them.
This is placing an enormous burden on our law enforcement personnel at our border. And those are simply the people that we apprehended or turned themselves in.
The truth is, with that kind of a burden on our border, as the Senator and I have discussed, it creates all new opportunities for drug cartels and drug organizations to seize the opportunity in that system and try and move even more drugs.
So I’m very proud to report to you, thanks to President Trump’s strong stand, in just the last few days, we have secured an agreement from Mexico to do more than ever before to support our efforts to secure our border. (Applause.)
The President made it clear a little less than two weeks ago. He said Mexico must do more or we would have to take actions that would involve the imposition of tariffs on goods coming in from Mexico.
It was my privilege to be a part of those negotiations. And, as I stand before you today, I’m proud to report, thanks to the President’s leadership, Mexico has agreed to allow all Central Americans that come across our border and claim asylums to remain in Mexico — not within our system, within the United States or vanishing into the United States, but to remain in Mexico while they’re being processed.
And just as important, Mexico has agreed to deploy 6,000 of their National Guard to their southern border to enforce their laws. This is more than Mexico has ever done before. And it is going to help solve the humanitarian crisis at our border, and it’s going to make it more possible for us to confront the scourge of drugs coming north from Mexico. (Applause.) We have every confidence.
But it’s not all that we’ve done. The truth is, not only the HIDTA program but a broad range of efforts in this administration have continued to be deployed. And I’m pleased to report to you that literally within a month of taking office, the President signed an executive order that empowered law enforcement to undermine transnational drug cartels and criminal organizations.
We signed a historic opioid bill that your members of Congress and the House and the Senate supported, giving more than $1 billion to our state and local partners to combat opioid abuse and addiction.
We rewarded hundreds of millions of dollars to community health centers and organizations that are treating people all across this country. We’ve laid out a national drug control strategy.
And I want to add — and I want to add, working with Senator Steve Daines, President Trump signed into law the Child Protection and Family Support Act that your senator authored that makes it possible for moms and dads who are recovering from drug abuse and addiction to keep their children at their side and have a better chance at success. And, Senator Daines, I want to thank you for that historic legislation. (Applause.)
In fact, later today, in just a few moments, I’ll be joining my wife, Karen, as we visit the Willow Way House. And we’re going to spend some time with some courageous moms and their kids at Willow Way House that are on the road to recovery with the support of their children around them. And I can’t wait to meet them and give them a hug, and make sure they know that we’re there for them.
Because that’s my last thought to all of you. I want to assure you that this President and I also know that, while law enforcement is essential — and we’re going to continue from the border north, to continue here in Montana to bring the full weight of law enforcement in partnership with local law enforcement officials, with tribal law enforcement officials, to do everything in our power to bring to justice those that are profiting from the drug trade that’s tearing apart our families.
I want you to know we understand that we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. We’ve got to provide remedies and opportunities for rehabilitation and healthcare to people that are willing to take that first step away from the grip of drug abuse and addiction.
And that’s my other message. If I have two messages today, the first one would be: If you’re involved in selling drugs to people here in Montana, we are going to find you and we are going to stop you. (Applause.) And my second message is: If you are caught up in drug abuse and addiction, in the grip of addiction here in Montana, there is help. The people of this state and this nation want to put their arms around you and help you restart your life free of drug addiction. (Applause.)
Institutions like this great institution that we’re gathered at today — RiverStone Health Clinic; the Rimrock Foundation, all the great work that’s done here, the great social work that’s done; the Willow Way House that I’ll be visiting in just a few minutes, it’s — we get it, we understand. We got to be there to come alongside — come alongside families like Senator Daines’s legislation just did to make it possible for people to have a pathway to be successful, to step away from drug abuse and addiction.
And people need to understand that there is help and there is a way forward. There’s a way out of the darkness and the grip of drug abuse and addiction.
So let me thank all of you for your courageous work. I came here today to make sure that people across Montana know that we’re with you and we’re going to continue to stand with you until we bring this epidemic, this plague of meth abuse, of drug abuse to an end, here in this state and all across this nation.
But I also came here to say thank you, particularly to those of you who are coming alongside vulnerable families, rescuing children out of harm’s way, bringing them into a foster care system. Those of you that are providing healthcare to people that have the courage to be able to step forward and choose a better and brighter path in their lives.
And also to say thank you to the courageous men and women who put your lives on the line every day, who step into harm’s way without regard to your personal safety. You consider our lives more important than your own. Whether you be in HIDTA, whether you be in local law enforcement here in Billings, tribal law enforcement, and state and local officials, or our great federal team, I just want to say thank you.
And to all of you, from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of your President and on behalf of the American people, I just want to assure you that we’re with you, and we’re going to stay with you. We can do this.
And the more I meet people around this country that are in this fight every day, the more confident that I am that the day will come, as the President said, when we liberate our fellow Americans from the grip of drug addiction, when we end this scourge and this crisis.
Because I’m confident, that with your continued work, with your continued courageous service in law enforcement, with the continued compassion of healthcare professionals and social professionals, and with God’s help, we’ll make our communities and our nation safe and free of drug abuse and addiction.
Thank you all very much. God bless you. And keep up the great work, Montana.