House Repubs prep for possible override vote on Wolf’s COVID-19 disaster declaration veto

Pa. House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre (L) and Rep. Seth Grove, R-York (R) speak during a state Capitol news conference on Wednesday, 9/2/20 (Screen Capture)

(*This story was updated at 1:30 p.m. on 9/2/20 comment from state Senate Republicans.)

A top Republican leader in the state House said he expects the majority-GOP chamber to vote “before we leave this week” to override Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of a resolution that sought to overturn the administration’s statewide COVID-19 disaster declaration.

“From the beginning of this pandemic we have sought to work with the governor’s office and administration in a way that makes sense and represents the various regional differences in Pennsylvania,” House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, said during a Wednesday news conference. “We feel this effort has been ignored. [Wolf is] behaving like he’s been given a blank check. The governor and his staff have continued to work alone and [have] issued confusing and conflicting mandates. This has left Pennsylvanians really confused … Businesses need consistency more than anything.”

The 203-member House is in session Tuesday and Wednesday. It takes a two-thirds majority vote by the House and Senate to override a gubernatorial veto. The Senate returns to voting session on Sept. 8. The House must take the first vote because the bill originated in the lower chamber, a spokesman for House Democrats confirmed.

Republicans in the House and Senate have complained since March about what they view as Wolf’s executive overreach as the administration tries to manage a public health crisis that has so far claimed the lives of 7,691 Pennsylvanians. Republicans unsuccessfully launched a series of legislative gambits attempting to undo the administration’s business shutdown orders. Opponents also have also failed in a series of court challenges.

On Tuesday, Wolf signed an order extending the declaration for 90 more days, saying it would provide the state with “the resources and support needed” to continue fighting the pandemic, PennLive reported.

On Wednesday, Benninghoff and fellow House Republicans criticized that order, saying it was signed in the “dark of night,” and again complained that lawmakers had not been consulted. Republicans on Wednesday also specifically targeted administration guidance limiting occupancy at bars and restaurants, arguing that it had had a debilitating effect on business owners, particularly in smaller communities across the state.

Pointing to lower caseloads and hospitalization rates, Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, argued that it was time for the administration’s “draconian” approach to managing the pandemic to end.

“We either need to override or the governor needs to rescind,” his latest declaration, Grove said.

Benninghoff told reporters Wednesday that he believed the House GOP can muster the Democratic votes it needs to override Wolf’s veto. Some Democratic lawmakers have broken with the administration on its management of the pandemic. Officially, however, the House’s Democratic caucus was walking a united line on Wednesday.

“We don’t need more Republican political grandstanding. We need to work on actual solutions that will address the needs of school children and their families, small business owners, individuals with pre-existing conditions, and frontline and essential workers. House Democrats continue to offer such solutions as part of our Plan for Pennsylvania,” Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Democrats, said in an email. “Rather than join House Republicans in looking backward 180 days, Democrats will instead look forward 89 days to Nov. 30 and the end of the current Republican majority.”

Senate Democrats are opposed to an override and won’t join the effort, spokeswoman Brittany Crampsie told the Capital-Star on Wednesday. The resolution advanced out of the lower chamber in June with support from just two Democrats.

*A spokeswoman for Senate Republicans told the Capital-Star that a potential override vote is “not something we have discussed as a caucus at this point.”

Capital-Star Staff Reporter Elizabeth Hardison contributed to this story.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press