Wednesday 1 February 2023

Biden Fumbles Reporter’s Question About His Decision To End COVID Emergency

 President Joe Biden stumbled over his words Tuesday when asked about his plan to end the COVID-19 emergencies.

Speaking to reporters before departing the White House on Marine One, Biden was asked what was behind the decision to end the national and public health emergencies on May 11th. Biden first put the onus on the Supreme Court, then said the declarations would end on May 15, 4 days after the date that the White House pointed to in its Monday announcement.

“What’s behind your decision to end the COVID emergency?” NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker asked Biden as he walked up to the press gaggle.

Biden grabbed Welker’s hand and stood under her umbrella as he gave his answer. “Well, the emergency will end when the Supreme Court ends it,” he said. “We’ve extended it to May the 15th to make sure we get everything done.  That’s all.  There’s nothing behind it at all.”

Biden did not say what he meant by “get everything done.” Biden also misspoke about the date the emergencies will end. The White House announced in a policy memo Monday that it would end the emergency declarations on May 11, not May 15.

It is also not clear what Biden meant in bringing up the Supreme Court — but the fates of two pandemic-era policies are currently in the hands of the court: Title 42 and student loan forgiveness. In late December, the court ruled to keep the Title 42 restrictions — which allowed border agents to turn away migrants at the southern border because of COVID — in place indefinitely, so that it could consider the arguments from both sides of the case. The court has not issued a final ruling yet.

The Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan is also awaiting a final ruling from the Supreme Court. There are two cases expected to be heard by the court; oral arguments for both cases are expected to begin on February 28. A final ruling is not expected until May or June.

In a statement of policy from the White House Office of Management and Budget Monday, the White House admitted that it would file one last extension of the national and public health emergency declarations on April 11, then would end both one month later, on May 11.

“The COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency (PHE) were declared by the Trump Administration in 2020,” OMB said in its statement. “They are currently set to expire on March 1 and April 11, respectively. At present, the Administration’s plan is to extend the emergency declarations to May 11, and then end both emergencies on that date. This wind-down would align with the Administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the PHE.”

But the move was announced in a statement intended to criticize two bills in the House of Representatives that would end the emergency declarations by force. The first, H.R. 382, a.k.a. the ‘‘Pandemic is Over Act,” was introduced by Kentucky Republican Rep. Brett Guthrie; it would terminate the public health emergency. The second, House Joint Resolution 7, was authored by Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar; it would terminate the national emergency.

The House passed the Pandemic is Over Act on Tuesday, 220-210. A vote on H.J.Res. 7 is expected this week.

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