Frustration among far-left lawmakers has reached a fever pitch over the failure of the Democratic-run Congress to keep in place a federal moratorium on evictions, despite knowing for months that the Supreme Court would toss out the eviction ban.
The court on June 29 allowed the moratorium to remain in place temporarily but warned that Congress, not the president, needed to act for a further extension to protect renters still struggling in the COVID-19 economy. Time expired last week.
During the intervening two months, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was unable to push a dozen moderate Democrats in her caucus to support an extension. The Supreme Court last week ended the moratorium, setting off a panic among lawmakers who want the rent holiday to last another four months.
Justice Democrats, a political action committee that supports candidates on the far left, blamed Democratic leaders for the mess.
“Why is the Democratic establishment sitting on their hands in Congress? Because corporate PACs and rich donors don’t want an eviction moratorium. This is why we can’t just elect Democrats, we need to elect BETTER Democrats,” the group wrote in a fundraising appeal.
“Millions of people who are currently at risk for eviction, housing insecurity, or face becoming unhoused desperately look to their elected representatives to implement legislation that will put their health and safety first and save lives,” they wrote. “We implore you to act with the highest levels of urgency to advance a permanent legislative solution.”
The 60 lawmakers, who make up a third of the Democratic Caucus, called for the eviction ban to be added to must-pass legislation such as spending bills to keep the government open past the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Keeping people off the streets and out of shelters is critical to fighting COVID-19 because only half of Americans have been fully vaccinated, the lawmakers said. “If we do not act, this will undoubtedly lead to the increased spread of COVID-19, more deaths, and community-wide trauma.”
Critics of the eviction ban say the job market has recovered since the end of state-ordered COVID-19 shutdowns. The real problem for struggling renters, they say, is states’ slow distribution of $46 billion in emergency rental aid that Congress authorized in a coronavirus relief bill.
Congressional leaders and the Biden administration began a game of political hot potato with the issue. Prominent lawmakers on the far left spoke out about a failure to lead.
“We cannot in good faith blame the Republican Party when House Democrats have a majority,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, said on CNN when Congress began its summer break this month without taking up an eviction bill.
The ban, which Congress originally enacted in March 2020, was supposed to last four months, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended it repeatedly. Landlords were left on the hook as tenants lived rent-free for more than a year.
The Supreme Court in June set a July 31 deadline for the eviction ban to end unless Congress passed an extension.
House Democrats, who argued that an extension would not survive a Republican filibuster in the Senate, demanded that the Biden administration act unilaterally.
President Biden, who the court said did not have the power to act, refused. On July 30, he threw the issue back to the House, which was preparing to adjourn for a seven-week summer recess.
On the day before the House adjourned, Mrs. Pelosi and her top two deputies huddled with House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters, California Democrat. They hoped to find a way to resuscitate Ms. Waters’ bill to extend the eviction moratorium, according to a report by Politico that described the meeting.
They called a dozen holdouts in the Democratic Caucus, to no avail. They needed the support of nearly the entire caucus to get Ms. Waters’ bill through the narrowly divided chamber.
Moderate Democrats said the extension had lasted too long. They also argued that the bill wouldn’t pass the Senate, meaning they would be taking a tough vote on a bill that was doomed to fail. Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Biden already leaned strongly on centrist Democrats to win their support for considering the $3.5 trillion liberal spending package.
Mrs. Pelosi said she had run out of time to rally enough votes. She allowed House lawmakers to leave Washington but urged them to pressure their states to distribute relief funds to landlords and tenants.
“Somebody dropped the ball,” Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, told NBC News at the time. “It could have been on our end or the president’s end, but millions of Americans face eviction, a cruel and devastating experience for many families.”
Rep. Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat who was once homeless, remained in Washington. She camped on the Capitol steps and urged her colleagues to return and take up the eviction bill.
Mrs. Pelosi didn’t call the House back for the eviction issue, but Ms. Bush’s demonstration helped persuade Mr. Biden to extend the moratorium on Aug. 3 after acknowledging he didn’t have the authority.
The high court responded Thursday by striking down Mr. Biden’s extension.
In a “dear colleague” letter to House Democrats, Mrs. Pelosi said that “preventing mass evictions is a priority that unites Democrats.”
Mrs. Pelosi, Ms. Waters and Ms. Bush declined to answer questions about the failure to resolve the situation and what they planned to do about it.
The House is set to return on Sept. 23, but lawmakers will be immediately consumed with passing a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and possibly a $3.5 trillion expansion of the social safety net.
• Kery Murakami can be reached at email@example.com.
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