Ryan goes head-to-head with Fox host

A Fox News host criticized U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan before the State of the Union address for leaving an open seat to bring attention to a deported Youngstown man, but not the overdose victims of the opioid crisis.

Tucker Carlson, host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” interviewed Ryan, D-Howland, about the seat he left empty for Amer Othman Adi during President Donald Trump’s speech, opening the segment by decrying members of Congress who brought “illegal” immigrants to watch the speech.

Carlson said the lawmakers were “sending the defiant message that American law is irrelevant, even in the chamber where it is made.”

He went on to question why Ryan hadn’t left an open seat for Ohioans who lost their lives to drug overdoses — a crisis that claimed 4,000 last year, compared to the 400 deported from the state, Carlson said.

“You left one seat open and you’re leaving it open for someone that is deported but not for the people losing their pensions or your constituents who have died, the thousands of them in Ohio who died last year of drug overdoses but for someone that was deported for fraud. Why is that?” Carlson said.

Ryan said leaving the seat open is a conversation starter, meant to draw attention to the plight of people who might not have been born in the United States, but who have been here peacefully, with strong ties to their communities and American family members and no recourse under current immigration laws. Ryan said he honors the victims of the opioid crisis by working to support treatment and recovery programs to help those still suffering from addiction and other bills addressing the crisis.

Members of the Republican party are the ones that have stalled bills that would lead to better care for the addicted, Ryan said.

“I am not taking a backseat to you or anyone on the opioid epidemic. You tell your president and your party to fund the damn bills we try to put forth to make sure these people can get treatment,” Ryan said.

Republican-led threats to the Affrodable Care Act and Medicaid also threaten recovery for addicted people, Ryan said.

Carlson said he “might agree” with Ryan, but insisted Ryan should have used the high-profile speech to draw attention to the crisis and not a “fraud” like Othman.

Othman was deported to his native Jordan this week after decades of going back and forth through the courts to stay in the country, where he has an American wife and four American daughters.

Othman was a taxpayer and was one of the first businessmen to take a chance on downtown Youngstown, leading to a revitalization, Ryan said.

“I have no trouble believing he was a good guy, I think a lot of immigrants, including those here illegally, a lot of them are great people and work hard and if they are deported, it’s sad. But it doesn’t answer the question, what are you going to do with people who are here illegally? You’re a lawmaker, if you don’t like the law, you have a chance to change it. You’re arguing instead to ignore it. Why?” Carlson said.

Ryan said that is what he and his colleagues are working on, since President Trump eliminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“And let me just say one thing, Tucker, this is not an either-or. I am for border security. I am for making sure we have enough border control to make sure drugs don’t get in out country. I’m for throwing felons the hell out of the country, but when you are someone who is a law-abiding citizen, you are paying taxes, you’re a net benefit to the United States, I think that if you pay a fine, if you pay some back taxes and you learn English, if you don’t already know it, we should figure out a way in the next five to 10 years to get you into the country and then expedite people who are waiting in line now,” Ryan said.

The segment ended with the two men questioning each others’ priorities.

A spokesman for Ryan declined to comment further on the exchange.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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