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Senate votes to overturn COVID-19 national emergency order

Biden opposed measure but plans to sign it, White House official says

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., argued that a 2020 emergency pandemic order had to be rescinded two months before President Joe Biden planned to do it to restore checks and balances between Congress and the executive branch.
Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., argued that a 2020 emergency pandemic order had to be rescinded two months before President Joe Biden planned to do it to restore checks and balances between Congress and the executive branch. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate voted Wednesday to terminate a COVID-19 pandemic ​national emergency order implemented by former President Donald Trump in 2020 that was due to be terminated in May anyway.

The 68-23 vote on the measure came after the House voted 229-197 in February, with 11 Democrats joining 218 Republicans in support. 

A statement of administration policy issued in January that covered House measures to end both the national emergency and a related public health emergency said “an abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans.” It did not, however, include a direct veto threat if Congress passed the measures.

President Joe Biden will sign the resolution, even as the White House continued to say he is opposed.

“The President strongly opposes H J Res 7, and the administration is planning to wind down the COVID national emergency and public health emergency on May 11,” a White House official said Wednesday. “If this bill comes to his desk, however, he will sign it, and the administration will continue working with agencies to wind down the national emergency with as much notice as possible to Americans who could potentially be impacted.”

Sen. Roger Marshall, who has led the effort in the Senate to roll back the national emergency, said it was time for Congress to end the designation, which he said “allowed the administration to justify increased spending and push harmful mandates.” The Kansas Republican noted that Biden said in a “60 Minutes” interview last year that the pandemic was over. 

“Emergency powers are given to the executive branch so the commander in chief has the flexibility to quickly act in the event of a crisis,” Marshall said on the Senate floor before the vote. “That declaration was appropriate in 2020, but now it’s time for the proper constitutional checks and balances to be restored. It’s time to end any and all authoritarian control and unilateral spending decisions without congressional consent.”

The Senate voted 62-36 in November, during the previous Congress, to terminate the emergency, with a dozen Democratic caucus members supporting the resolution. But that measure never came up for a vote in the House, which was controlled by Democrats at the time.

Republicans pointed to Biden’s decision to sign the resolution as another sign of discord between the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill, weeks after a similar situation when Biden said he would not veto a measure blocking a D.C.’s revised criminal code. 

“Once again, House Democrats are showing voters how extreme they really are, while House Republicans continue keeping their promises to the American people,” Courtney Parella, communications director for the Congressional Leadership Fund, said in a statement. 

Both the national emergency and the public health emergency that began in 2020 are set to end in May. While ending the public health emergency would unwind several policy changes that have been in place for the last three years, such as the Title 42 border policy allowing federal agents to turn back migrants at the border, ending the national emergency would have fewer broad implications. 

Examples of the impact of ending the national emergency include the termination of some waivers meant to help health care providers serve patients during the pandemic. One such waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services allowing hospitals to screen patients for COVID-19 off-campus would expire, while another requiring private Medicare Advantage plans to cover services at out-of-network facilities would also expire. Another waiver allowed hospices to not provide physical or occupational therapy during the national emergency.

Jessie Hellmann contributed to this report.

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