An eviction moratorium for renters from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is on track to expire Saturday night, after the House of Representatives adjourned for August recess without passing an extension.
Democratic leaders scrambled throughout the day Friday to try and find enough votes to extend the moratorium beyond the July 31 deadline to no avail. Just after 6 p.m. ET on Friday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer attempted to pass a bill to extend the eviction moratorium by unanimous consent, but it was rejected by Republicans. The House adjourned shortly thereafter.
The Supreme Court last month allowed the CDC order to stay in place until July 31 but said congressional action would be needed to extend it past that date. President Joe Biden called on Congress on Thursday to extend the moratorium to December 31, but both chambers have yet to move through the legislative process to extend the directive and the moratorium appears on track to expire barring some sort of last-minute action.
On Friday evening, the US Departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs and Treasury and the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced that — at Biden’s request — they are extending “their foreclosure-related eviction moratoria until September 30, 2021.”
Biden had called on state and local governments earlier Friday evening to “immediately disburse” rental assistance funds from Covid relief laws ahead of the moratorium’s expiration. “State and local governments should also be aware that there is no legal barrier to moratorium at the state and local level,” he said in a statement.
House Democratic leadership had shopped around Friday afternoon whether the conference would support extending the eviction moratorium to just October 18 instead of to the end of the year.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference earlier Friday that it should be the CDC to extend the moratorium and use the money that had previously been allocated to this issue because she says much of it has not been spent.
“We would like the CDC to expand the moratorium, that’s where it can be done,” Pelosi told reporters.
But the White House’s legal team doesn’t see that extension as an option. The message sent in Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s opinion allowing the last extension, which explicitly stated the moratorium was only being upheld because it would expire on July 31, led the White House legal team to settle on the position that there was no way to win if they sought another extension.
“There was no chance of winning or it even having a temporary positive impact and some chance that it could provoke a harmful ruling,” the White House official said.
A separate White House official noted Kavanaugh’s opinion was public for all lawmakers to see, and that the White House clearly stated its intent in June that the one-month extension to July 31 would be the last.
It’s unclear why, if the deadline had been known for weeks, Democratic leaders were scrambling to get the extension passed with little more than a day before the deadline.
“We only learned of this yesterday,” Pelosi told reporters Friday evening after the failed vote. “There was not enough time to socialize it within our caucus as well as to build a consensus necessary.”
“We will not forget this issue; we expect to be back here in the relatively near future,” Hoyer added.
Prior to the vote, progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri stood outside Pelosi’s office and demanded that Congress stay in session until lawmakers reached an agreement that would extend it. Ocasio-Cortez rejected the notion that this was a last-minute request from the Biden administration. “Everybody knew this was coming. We were sounding the alarm about this issue,” she said.
At her news conference earlier Friday, Pelosi said she did not want to criticize the Executive Branch for waiting until Thursday to urge Congress to act.
“I don’t want to be critical of what they have because they just made the statement yesterday,” Pelosi said. “But we are not going away from this issue whether it’s now or shortly thereafter.”
Even if the extension had passed the House, it’s unlikely the Senate would be able to quickly pass the bill any time soon. The upper chamber has tied up the floor for the foreseeable future as it tries to advance a bipartisan infrastructure bill, and any quick passage would require unanimous consent from all present senators. The Senate is also slated to start its recess at the end of next week, though that too could change if leadership changes the schedule.
Put in place by the CDC last fall to help in stopping the spread of Covid-19, the order banned the eviction of renters for nonpayment of rent. The end of the moratorium could affect the estimated 11.4 million adult renters are behind on rent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Republicans have pushed back that Democrats are trying to get this done too last minute.
“The CDC order was to expire at the end of this month. They knew that in February. Democrats had the opportunity to change that. They didn’t,” GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina said Friday. “We’ve heard the priority. We’ve heard the emergency. But this is not an emergency. On this day it’s a tragedy that it’s this level of incompetency that we didn’t take action in February, March, April, May, June. Even July.”
As House Democratic leadership held members in session into Friday evening when many were planning to start the August recess, a senior aide close to the moderate wing of the Democratic Party told CNN that moderates had threatened to leave and not vote proxy because it’s clear the party didn’t have the votes.
“They don’t have the votes and leadership is playing hard ball and trying to force members to stay,” the staffer told CNN. “Moderates are now threatening to get on planes and not vote proxy.”
But other Democrats had pressed that regardless of how down to the wire it is, this extension cannot be ignored.
“We have got to put a pause on this for the sake of public health,” Democratic Rep. Deborah Ross of North Carolina said Friday. “For the sake of people’s economic well-being, and to give people time to make this transition. I too wish that we had planned for this more in advance, but I can say that people are making some progress. We need to help people right now.”
The White House has been pressing to ramp up the awareness and disbursement of the tens of billions of dollars available in rental assistance and grantees from the Covid relief laws. The pace of that aid going out the door has been a concern for lawmakers and administration officials alike, as they’ve sought to press local officials to disburse the money more rapidly widely.
“State and local governments can and should use both the Emergency Rental Assistance and their American Rescue Plan state and local funds to support policies with courts, community groups, and legal aid to ensure no one seeks an eviction when they have not sought out Emergency Rental Assistance funds,” Biden said in his Friday statement.