May 24, 2023

Ranking Members Larsen, Titus Statements from Hearing to Examine the National Emergencies Act


Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Dina Titus (D-NV) during today’s hearing titled, “Never Ending Emergencies – An Examination of the National Emergencies Act.”

Video of Larsen’s and Titus’ opening statements can be found here and here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Ranking Member Larsen:

Thank you, Chairman Perry and Ranking Member Titus, for calling today’s hearing on “Never Ending Emergencies–An Examination of the National Emergencies Act.”

We are here to discuss safeguarding our democracy, strengthening our democratic institutions and Congress’ responsibility to maintain their Article One power as a co-equal branch of government.

Regardless of the sitting president’s political party, Congress needs to conduct oversight of emergency powers used by the executive branch.

In reviewing the testimony from today’s panel, it was eye-opening and jaw-dropping—the breadth of the President’s powers and the struggle Congress has been through since 1976 in order to try to define a fence, if you will, around these powers.

A core tenant of the Constitution is the system of checks and balances which ensures that no one branch of government has too much control or power. 

This includes checking the powers granted to a President during national emergencies.

This nation does grant extraordinary power to a President during national emergencies. Presidents can determine what rises to the level of a national emergency and declare such emergency without the approval of Congress.

A national emergency declaration in turn unlocks more than 130 standby authorities for the President—even if they are not relevant to the emergency at hand.

Congress conducted extensive oversight regarding the President’s authority to declare national emergencies in 1973. 

A Senate Special Committee on National Emergencies and Declared Emergency Powers was appointed to investigate concerns that national emergencies were active for too long and that no congressional mechanism existed to terminate them. I was surprised they actually set this up to look at national emergency powers that were established under the Korean War and then discovered there was a lot more out there, which caused a lot of concern for Congress. These emergencies were active for too long and no Congressional mechanism existed to terminate them.

The Special Committee’s report resulted in passage of the National Emergencies Act, which formalized the emergency powers of the President, authorized Congress to biannually review national emergencies, and if necessary, vote to terminate Presidentially declared national emergencies, which the Supreme Court in 1983 removed as an unconstitutional veto.

Today we exist in what arguably the National Emergencies Act was designed to avoid—a perpetual state of emergency.

There are currently 41 separate presidential national emergency declarations in effect. The oldest declaration, which pertains to sanctions against Iran, has been renewed annually since 1979.

I am not disputing that the subject matter of these national emergencies may be highly important.

However, we must examine whether addressing these issues in a manner that gives the President indefinite emergency level powers is appropriate.

I look forward to discussing an appropriate balance.

Congress is a deliberative body.

The President needs the authority to react quickly in a true emergency and protect the public. Congress, by nature, may be too slow to react.

But in the long-term, emergency powers should not become a convenience that is used to circumvent congressional action.

The witnesses on our panel today are highly qualified to discuss this issue. As I always say, I am not an expert, I am a Member of Congress and I rely on the experts to close that gap. I appreciate the service they have demonstrated by dedicating so much time to ensuring Congress’ Article One powers are preserved and that our democracy is safeguarded.

My thanks again to today’s witnesses. I look forward to hearing your testimony.

Ranking Member Titus:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank our witnesses for joining us today for this Subcommittee’s very first hearing on an important topic–the National Emergencies Act (NEA). 

Proper implementation and oversight of the National Emergencies Act of 1976 are necessary to safeguard our democracy and protect our institutions. Presidents are awarded great power in times of national crises, so they can make the timely and decisive decisions when federal assistance is needed. This power is granted since Congress may not have enough time during a true emergency to enact the authorities necessary to protect the American public.

The national emergencies declared throughout our nation’s history, however, have not been terminated promptly. In fact, most U.S. citizens have lived their entire lives under a state of emergency, and at least one national emergency has been active since 1979. Today, there are 41 active national emergencies.

The perpetual state of emergency that we live in today may tempt the President to use the powers he is granted by the National Emergencies Act to circumvent the will of Congress. In theory, Presidents of any political party could abuse emergency powers. I would be remiss not to mention my concern when former President Trump abused the National Emergencies Act to fund the construction of a wall at the southern border without congressional authorization or appropriations. In fact, the former President’s very first veto in office was on the congressional resolution attempting to block this misuse of the NEA.

Before I became a Member of Congress, I taught American government classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). So, I know all too well that Article One of our Constitution enshrines Congress’ power to make laws, control the power of the purse, and check the power of the President. In fact, it is Congress’ responsibility to affirm its status as a co-equal branch of government and ensure the system of checks and balances is functioning as intended.

This discussion is a matter of principle over politics. I hope that we can set partisan policy disagreements aside and focus on oversight and reforms that may be necessary to safeguard our constitution and democracy during today’s hearing, and to reignite congressional oversight of national emergencies as it was originally intended.

I thank our witnesses for their time and previous contributions to this important topic. I look forward to your testimony as it informs this Subcommittee’s efforts to examine the National Emergencies Act and to better evaluate proposed reforms.