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Biden announces end to public health emergency as Republican bill gains steam in Congress

By Sarah May on
 January 31, 2023

President Joe Biden declared Monday that he would soon end the public health emergency declarations put in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic, as the Associated Press reports, however, Republicans have blasted the move as little more than a face-saving exercise to take credit for what they are already poised to do, according to Fox News.

Biden's announcement indicated that the national emergencies would officially end on May 11 and that the next three months would serve as a “wind-down” period that would allow authorities and the public to adjust to changes resulting from the move.

Emergencies ending

COVID-19 prompted its first federal public health emergency declaration back on Jan. 31, 2020, under the administration of former President Donald Trump, and since taking office in January 2021, Biden has continued to extend that designation – as well as the national emergency status declared by his predecessor in March 2020 – periodically as needed.

An official end to the public health emergencies will now result in a restructuring of the federal COVID-19 response indicative of an acknowledgment that the virus has entered an endemic phase capable of management through normal governmental powers.

Significant aspects of such a drawdown have already been underway, including the unwinding of pandemic provisions related to health insurance as well as the cessation of further federal relief payments designed to ameliorate the effects of the pandemic.

In addition, with the end of the public health emergency designations, the processes of developing new treatments and vaccines for future iterations of the virus will move away from direct federal management.

Recent extension slammed

The most recent instance in which Biden extended the COVID-19 public health emergency came earlier in January, when the administration indicated that it would remain in place for another 90 days, as National Review noted at the time.

That prompted a group of House Republicans to issue a demand for Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to reverse course and lift the declaration immediately, as Fox News reported separately.

GOP lawmakers led by Rep. Troy Nehls (TX-22) called on Becerra to either withdraw the latest public health emergency declaration or provide – in writing – an explanation of the rationale for its extension by Feb. 10.

The letter from Nehls and his colleagues outlined their position, stating, “The continued extensions of the public health emergency calls into question the legality of the expanding powers of the executive branch, its abuse of statutory authority, and sets a terrible precedent for future public health emergencies.”

GOP takes action

Not long after the Biden administration's latest emergency extension, Rep. Brett Guthrie (KY-02) spearheaded a push by House Republicans to legislatively declare an immediate end to the special pandemic designation, as Axios reported at the time.

In a press release outlining the measure, Guthrie said, “The COVID-19 pandemic is over. Despite President Biden admitting this in September, his administration just authorized the 12th extension of the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

“It is long overdue for President Biden to end the COVID-19 public health emergency and relinquish the emergency powers that he just renewed again,” Guthrie added.

Biden's Monday announcement that he would indeed end the public health emergency in May drew the ire of Republicans preparing to vote on the aforementioned bill and those who pointed out that the Senate had already passed bipartisan legislation late last year to immediately end the special status.

Saving face

As Fox News noted separately, Rep. Thomas Massie (KY-04) argued that Biden was simply trying to cover for the fact that he is a day late and a dollar short in taking action to end the public emergency, writing on Twitter, “Republicans already getting results. This week we are voting to end the COVID emergency.”

Massie continued, “In response, Biden announces that HE IS going to end the COVID-19 emergency declarations. Now that Biden is trying to avoid embarrassment, how will Democrats vote? What about the vax mandates?”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) expressed his belief that the emergency's end was long overdue, tweeting, “Pres Biden says he will end COVID-19 Emergency Declarations on May 11. About time! I've voted 2x end COVID-19 National Emergency Declaration Need to end exec emergency powers Its commonsense since Biden said in Sept 18 'pandemic is over’...“

Free-market policy advocate Phil Kerpen underscored the cynicism of Biden's decision and mainstream journalists' willingness to play along with the president's preferred narrative, noting, “Biden announces 3+ more months of fake COVID emergency on the eve of the first-ever House vote on immediate termination. Senate had 62 bipartisan votes to terminate back in November! Media dutifully parrots White House spin.”