Last week, as Omicron-related cases continue to decline, U.S. health officials announced they are preparing for “the next phase” of the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials acknowledged the nation is reaching a point where COVID-19 is no longer a “constant crisis.” Still—despite falling COVID cases coupled with a growing number of U.S. states easing COVID-19 restrictions—on Friday, Joe Biden extended the national emergency initially put in place in 2020 by President Trump. Just a few short days before The People’s Convoy begins its journey across the nation in the name of freedom, Biden declared “there remains a need to continue this national emergency,” writing:

“Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)) provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless, within 90 days prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date. In accordance with this provision, I have sent to the Federal Register for publication the enclosed notice stating that the national emergency declared in Proclamation 9994 of March 13, 2020, beginning March 1, 2020, concerning the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, is to continue in effect beyond March 1, 2022.

There remains a need to continue this national emergency. 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.”

A National Emergency Grants Emergency Powers

The powers of the president are significantly enhanced during a national emergency. Explaining these powers further (rattled by the potential national emergency declaration made by President Trump to secure construction funding for the wall along the U.S. southern border), the left-leaning Brennan Center (BC) assembled a report titled “A Guide to Emergency Powers and their Use” in 2018. According to the report, there are currently over 130 extraordinary powers that will continue to be granted to Biden with his extension of the COVID-19 national emergency. 

With similar comparisons being made to what Prime Minister Trudeau has implemented in neighboring Canada to halt the Trucker Convoy, extending the national emergency declaration gives Biden vast powers affecting many aspects of Americans’ lives. Those powers include the authority to freeze bank accounts and shut down or take over radio stations, wire, and other types of communications. It also grants the president the ability to deploy troops inside the country to halt civil unrest. 

Brief History of the National Emergencies Act

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Congress passed laws to give the president additional authority during economic, military, or labor crises. As outlined in a 2019 article in the Atlantic (like BC, the publication appeared unnerved at the time by President Trump), a more formalized approach to emergency powers evolved in the early 20th century, when Congress legislated powers would lie dormant until the president activated them by declaring a national emergency. Under this scenario, by the 1970s, hundreds of statutory emergency powers, and four undoubtedly obsolete states of emergency, were in effect. For example, the national emergency declared by Truman in 1950 during the Korean War remained in place and was utilized to help prosecute the war in Vietnam.

Aiming to correct the accumulation of previous emergency declarations, in 1976, Congress passed the National Emergencies Act (NEA), which still offers the president complete discretion to declare an emergency. However, the act states he must specify in the declaration which powers he intends to use, issue public updates if he decides to invoke additional powers, and report to Congress on the government’s emergency-related expenses every six months. Notably, the act stipulates the Senate and the House must meet every six months while the emergency is in effect “to consider a vote” on termination. Articulating the failure of the National Emergencies Act, the Atlantic wrote:

By any objective measure, the law has failed. Thirty states of emergency are in effect today—several times more than when the act was passed. Most have been renewed for years on end. And during the 40 years the law has been in place, Congress has not met even once, let alone every six months, to vote on whether to end them.

This legal regime for emergencies—ambiguous constitutional limits combined with a rich well of statutory emergency powers—would seem to provide the ingredients for a dangerous encroachment on American civil liberties. Yet so far, even though presidents have often advanced dubious claims of constitutional authority, egregious abuses [have been] rare, and most of the statutory powers available during a national emergency have never been used.

But what’s to guarantee that this president, or a future one, will show the reticence of his predecessors? To borrow from Justice Robert Jackson’s dissent in Korematsu v. United States, the 1944 Supreme Court decision that upheld the internment of Japanese Americans, each emergency power “lies about like a loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need.

Democratic States to End COVID Rules As Biden Seeks More Funding

Despite Biden’s extension of the COVID-19 national emergency, many states are ready to move from living in an emergency state to an endemic state. Over the past two weeks, several Democratic governors have joined their Republican counterparts and announced they’re lifting specific mask mandates and easing other restrictions. These states include Rhode Island, Nevada, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Oregon, and New York. 

Yet, even with the shift to end draconian restrictions across the country, the Biden administration is gauging potential support for $30 billion in additional federal funding to pay for the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In step with the World Economic Forum’s and Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, the new funds—which would in part be used towards vaccines to fight future variants and emerging diseases—would come after Congress has already allocated record-setting sums totaling trillions of dollars to “buoy the American economy and beleaguered state and municipal governments” reeling from a lack of tax revenue caused by COVID-19.

States Open Amid Unreliable COVID Data from Biden Administration

Highlighting the distrust of pandemic-related data and statistics from the Biden administration, the New York Times confirmed on Monday that data from the CDC has proven to be unreliable. Calling attention to what many experts have been censored for stating, the NYT reported that throughout the pandemic, the CDC has invariably not published large portions of the COVID data it collects. The article states:

Two full years into the pandemic, the agency leading the country’s response to the public health emergency has published only a tiny fraction of the data it has collected, several people familiar with the data said.

Much of the withheld information could help state and local health officials better target their efforts to bring the virus under control. Detailed, timely data on hospitalizations by age and race would help health officials identify and help the populations at highest risk. Information on hospitalizations and death by age and vaccination status would have helped inform whether healthy adults needed booster shots.

Still, even knowing data is unreliable, some U.S. health experts caution the next phase of the pandemic depends on vaccination rates and new variants. Meanwhile, the CDC is weighing new COVID-19 guidance, including when to wear face masks. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky stated on Feb. 16 that hospital capacity would be crucial in issuing new guidelines, which should happen in late February or early March, “around the same time mask mandates in several states are lifted.”

What’s causing the ongoing shift in the COVID narrative? According to NBC News, it depends on who you ask. They report Democratic governors indicated states have a sufficient supply of necessary tools (vaccines, testing, treatments) to control the virus. They also cite the drop in cases and hospitalizations and increasing immunity from vaccines and previous infection.

Meanwhile, Republicans are confident polling data is behind the shift. Critics denounce Democratic leaders for lifting their restrictions, “saying it’s all because they fear losing House and Senate majorities in the upcoming November midterm elections.” Remarking recently on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed that sentiment, commenting:

“The scientific facts have not changed in the last few weeks,” he said. “The only science that’s changed in the last two weeks is the political science. The only data that’s changed in the last two weeks is the political science. The only data that’s changed in the last two weeks is Democrats’ polling data.” 

GOP Senators Introduce Resolution to End National Emergency

Interestingly, three days before Biden extended the national emergency for COVID-19, on Feb. 15, Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan) introduced a resolution to end it. He noted that, under the NEA, Congress is required to decide whether the emergency should continue, a process not fully enforced which cedes power to the executive branch. Marshall, who also seeks to subpoena Dr. Anthony Fauci and reduce his salary to zero, proclaimed:

“With COVID cases and hospitalizations on the decline, 94% of Americans having immunity to COVID, mask mandates falling by the wayside, and 70% 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.”

Thus far, Marshall said Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Rand Paul (R-Ken.) have signed on as cosponsors of the resolution.