What is the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA)?
On August 23rd, 2019, United States (U.S.) President Donald Trump tweeted, “Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bring your companies HOME and making your products in the USA.” President Trump’s basis for this unofficial order was that the U.S., “has lost, stupidly, Trillions of Dollars with China over many years” and China has “stolen” “Intellectual Property at a rate of Hundreds of Billions of Dollars a year.”
In a follow up tweet, President Trump proclaimed that his authority for this unofficial order derives from the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 (IEEPA). Presidents have successfully invoked the IEEPA as a basis for over 400 Executive Orders (EOs), with President Trump having issued six such orders.
On August 6, President Trump invoked the IEEPA to potentially ban the Chinese applications WeChat and TikTok from the United States. Prior to the EO on August 6th, the most recent EO involving the IEEPA occured on May 1st, 2020 to block transactions involving “bulk-power system electronic equipment” by any person subject to U.S.’s jurisdiction with “persons owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direct of a foreign adversary.” Proclaiming that the U.S.’s bulk-power system is susceptible to malicious acts by foreign adversaries, that EO states that blocking bulk-power system transactions will protect the U.S. from “significant risks.” Though that EO will target specific transactions, countries, and companies, the underlying basis is incredibly broad: to protect the U.S. from “significant risks” that threaten its economy, “human health, safety”, and defense capabilities.
Though many imminent threats exist to the U.S.’s economy, public health, safety, and defense capabilities, no bigger threat arguably exists than COVID-19. The virus has precipitated the deaths of thousands of U.S.’s citizens, exacerbated stock market volatility, shuttered U.S.’s businesses, and infected many members of the U.S.’s defense infrastructure. Thus, in the presence of a pandemic and with the inexorable threat of subsequent pandemics, the Executive Branch and its authority through the IEEPA have never been more powerful.