The Senate passed legislation Wednesday to scrap the federal government’s three-year-old COVID-19 national emergency.
In a bipartisan 69-23 vote, the Senate voted to immediately terminate the emergency. Overall, more than a dozen Senate Democrats voted with nearly every Republican to pass the measure.
“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,” said Sen. Roger Marshall, the Kansas Republican who authored the measure. “That declaration was appropriate in 2020, but now it’s time for the proper Constitutional checks and balances to be restored.”
Democratic support was aided by a last-minute announcement that President Biden would not veto the bill. The White House said that while it opposed an immediate termination of the national emergency, Mr. Biden would sign the bill nonetheless.
“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,” the White House said in a statement.
Mr. Biden’s decision to sign the bill was, in part, a bow to reality.
Last November, 11 Senate Democrats crossed party lines last to back a similar resolution. The White House’s move likely swayed red-state Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who voted to end the termination on Wednesday after having opposed it last year.
Former President Donald Trump first issued a national emergency declaration regarding the coronavirus in March 2020. The maneuver made it easier for Federal Emergency Management Agency to mobilize personnel and funding to help state governments combat the virus.
Earlier this year, Mr. Biden said that he would allow the emergency to expire on its own in early May without renewal. The administration still pushed House Democrats to oppose the termination legislation when it came up for a vote in February.
“If the [emergency declaration] were suddenly terminated, it would sow confusion and chaos into this critical wind-down,” the White House said in a memo. “Due to this uncertainty, tens of millions of Americans could be at risk of abruptly losing their health insurance, and states could be at risk of losing billions of dollars in funding.”
Despite Mr. Biden’s opposition, 11 House Democrats bucked their party to back ending the emergency anyway. The Senate passed two similar resolutions last Congress, but neither got a floor vote in the then-Democratic-controlled House.