They voted to end the national emergency — first declared by former President Donald Trump — as thousands continue to die each week from the coronavirus.
Forty-eight Republicans voted on Thursday to declare that the nation's COVID-19 emergency is officially over. But their effort to terminate the administration's emergency powers to address the coronavirus pandemic comes as thousands of Americans are still dying each week from it.
The Senate voted 48-47 on a joint resolution, authored by Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS), to declare the national emergency declaration — issued originally by then-President Donald Trump in March 2020 — "hereby terminated." It was a party-line vote, with five senators absent.
A Democratic Senate aide told the American Independent Foundation that the measure "won't go anywhere in the House and President Biden would veto it." A veto override would require two-thirds' support in the House and Senate.
An emergency declaration allows temporary special powers to the president to address major national crises, including the ability to cut through bureaucratic red tape and tap into various funding sources. Trump's order specifically granted his Health and Human Services secretary power to "temporarily waive or modify" some of the public health rules under Medicare, Medicaid, State Children’s Health Insurance programs, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy. According to Reuters, it also allowed the administration to access $50 billion in emergency aid funds.
Last month, President Joe Biden sent letters to both houses of Congress extending the emergency, writing, "The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause significant risk to the public health and safety of the Nation. More than 900,000 people in this Nation have perished from the disease, and it is essential to continue to combat and respond to COVID-19 with the full capacity and capability of the Federal Government."
Marshall argued that the crisis was over and no longer constituted an emergency.
“With COVID cases and hospitalizations on the decline, 94 percent of Americans having immunity to COVID, mask mandates falling by the wayside, and 70 percent of Americans agreeing 'it's time we accept that COVID is here to stay' and that 'we just need to get on with our lives,' it's clear we need [a] new approach to COVID as we learn to live with it. That new approach starts with putting an end to the COVID national state of emergency," he said in a Feb. 14 press release.
He and other congressional Republicans have for months been pushing a narrative that the pandemic threat is basically over — opposing any safety measures and filing dozens of bills to repeal them. Marshall falsely claimed last August that having kids wear masks did not help curb the virus's spread and "probably makes it worse."
"By prematurely terminating the national emergency declaration on COVID, it will be harder to ensure we have enough supplies, enough support for health care workers, and risks throwing tens of millions of student loans borrowers into needless uncertainty and anxiety," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a floor speech before the vote on Thursday. "It's a wrong move."
Marshall's resolution was co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Mike Braun (IN), Ted Cruz (TX), Steve Daines (MT), Ron Johnson (WI), Mike Lee (UT), and Rick Scott (FL).
But while the number of new COVID-19 infections has dropped significantly in recent days as the omicron spike recedes, the nation is still seeing tens of thousands of new cases each day. Over the past week, an average of 1,800 Americans has died each day from the virus. Both numbers are much higher than when Trump originally declared the emergency.
Most Americans do not agree with Marshall's and his colleagues' do-nothing approach. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday found that just 6% of American adults believe the coronavirus is "completely under control" and 27% think it is "mostly under control."
By a 58%-38% margin, the people surveyed said it was more important to try to "control the spread of the coronavirus, even if it means having some restrictions on normal activities," than to have "no restrictions on normal activities."
The GOP senators' sudden concern about emergency powers is in stark contrast to their behavior when Trump was in office.
When the Senate voted in 2019 to end Trump's border "emergency declaration" that he said gave him the authority to siphon billions of dollars' worth of funds appropriated by Congress for housing military families to pay for his failed border wall, 41 Republicans voted no — including five of the seven co-sponsors of Marshall's resolution.
Trump had repeatedly promised that he would get Mexico to fund the entire project, but never did.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.