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Biden signs Republican-led bill to end COVID-19 emergency

By Sarah May on
 April 11, 2023

Despite his prior expressions of opposition, President Joe Biden signed a measure on Monday ending the COVID-19 national emergency declaration, as the Associated Press reports, effectively handing a victory to Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (CA-20) and his GOP colleagues.

Though Biden was on record with his reluctance to lift the emergency prior to its expected termination in May, he had recently signaled that if the resolution passed, he would not exercise his veto power to stop its enactment, according to the Washington Examiner.

National emergency ends

Biden's signature brings to a conclusion the process of immediately ending the coronavirus national emergency declaration that first came into being back in March of 2020, as NBC News noted.

The emergency status permitted the government to undertake extraordinary measures to combat the virus itself and bolster the nation's welfare systems and overall economy, and while some of those initiatives have already been wrapped up, others are still being phased out of operation.

Though the Biden administration had sought to extend the national emergency as well as a separate public health emergency declaration until May 11, Republicans in the House stood in opposition and sought to end both soon after reclaiming control of the lower chamber in January.

As such, the House passed legislation to end the national emergency declaration in February, with the Senate following suit at the end of March, as the Examiner noted, with roughly two dozen Democrats joining their GOP colleagues in support of the move.

Biden's reluctant about-face

According to an extremely brief dispatch from the White House on the matter, the president affixed his signature to the measure without media present, perhaps an indication of his unhappiness with the outcome.

While Biden had previously opined that ending the emergency ahead of schedule would do “a grave disservice to the American people,” he apparently did not feel compelled to burn political capital in order to take a stand on that position.

The administration had also previously warned that ending emergency declarations prior to May would “create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the healthcare system,” but realizing the likelihood of Republican success on this issue, a number of pandemic-era programs have been wound down in recent months.

Despite Biden's dire warnings, lawmakers have extended flexibility in the area of telehealth provisions put into place during the height of the pandemic, through which practitioners were permitted to deliver services electronically through computer and smartphone.

McCarthy's victory lap

Heralding the successful push to end the coronavirus national emergency well ahead of schedule was McCarthy himself, who tweeted Tuesday, “House Republicans are keeping our Commitment to America,” referencing a host of policy pledges made prior to last year's midterm contests.

Among the GOP victories touted by the speaker were the elimination of the military vaccine mandate, the passage of the Parents Bill of Rights, the establishment of the Bipartisan China Select Committee, and more.

Though House Republicans clearly feel a sense of vindication with the end of the national emergency, they have also initiated a probe into the pandemic's origins, including theories that the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China, as the Examiner noted.

The federal public health emergency, unlike the national emergency, will remain in place until May 11, as originally planned, with significant fallout expected at that time, particularly with regard to the lifting of so-called Title 42 border rules, which provided for expedited removal of migrants who illegally entered the country during the pandemic.

Border anxiety builds

Biden's decision to sign the measure ending the national emergency did not impact the May 11 target for lifting the public health emergency, and by extension, the aforementioned Trump-era immigration rule borne out of it.

As the Examiner noted, Department of Homeland security estimates issued at previous points when Title 42's continuation was in question suggested that anywhere between 14,000 and 18,000 arrivals per day may be headed for the border, a dramatic surge from the approximately 4,000 daily apprehensions currently taking place.

As Tuscon CBS affiliate KOLD reports, the imminent end of Title 42 is the source of significant concern in the region, with Pima County Communications Director Mark Evans declaring, “We only know we have so many resources, we only have so many beds” and added that the situation is “a humanitarian issue. It's a matter of public health, it's a matter of public safety....”

Immigration attorney Mo Goldman lamented with regard to the impending end of the deportation rule, “preparation for that should have been put in motion well in advance of it,” and just how bad the potential humanitarian crisis becomes is something that remains to be seen.