House ignores White House objections, votes to end COVID health emergency
Biden's White House urged opposition to GOP-led bills
The House on Tuesday ignored opposition from President Joe Biden and voted to end the public health emergency related to COVID-19, winning some support from House Democrats on a second bill that would end the government’s requirement that federal health care workers must be vaccinated against COVID.
The two bills – the Pandemic is Over Act and the Freedom for Health Care Workers Act – were planned by Republicans last week; and late Monday, the White House announced that it will terminate the national COVID emergency on May 11. The White House also announced its opposition to the two bills up for a vote today.
But Republicans pressed ahead anyway and easily passed both measures despite the GOP's narrow majority in the House.
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The Pandemic is Over Act, which would end the public health emergency, passed 220-210 in a vote that saw every Republican vote for it and every Democrat vote against it. But the Freedom for Health Care Workers Act, which would end the vaccination requirement for federal health care workers, passed 227-203 with help from seven Democrats.
Those Democrat votes came even though Democrat leaders on the House floor argued against both bills. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said he opposes the Pandemic is Over Act because it would "abruptly and irresponsibly end the COVID-19 public health emergency virtually overnight," and Democrats on the floor similarly argued against the bill to end the vaccine requirement.
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Support among Democrats for maintaining a high state of emergency related to COVID has waned in the months since President Biden said in an interview that the "pandemic is over." Late last year, the Democrat-led House and Senate each approved a defense policy bill that required the Pentagon to end its COVID-19 vaccine mandate – that bill passed easily in the House in a 350-80 vote.
Nonetheless, the White House said this week that it opposes the GOP attempt to eliminate the vaccination requirement for health care workers and said Biden would veto the bill if it passed the House and the Senate.
"While COVID-19 is no longer the disruptive threat that it once was, it makes no sense for Congress to reverse this protection for vulnerable patients, as well as our health care workers who have given so much to protect us," the White House said.
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But the White House stopped short of saying it would veto the bill to end the public health emergency (PHE), even though it said it opposes that bill.
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"If the PHE were suddenly terminated, it would sow confusion and chaos into this critical wind-down," the White House said. "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."