Democratic push to extend eviction moratorium fizzles in the House

·6 min read

The House failed to extend the national moratorium on evictions Friday, with Democratic leaders needling the White House for the inaction that could result in millions of people across the country losing their homes.

"Really, we only learned about this yesterday,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters after Democrats tried to extend the moratorium, only to have Republicans object.

“Not really enough time to socialize it within our caucus to build... the consensus necessary,” Pelosi added.

The failed vote came after Pelosi and her top two deputies huddled with House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters on Friday evening to try to reach a solution. The leadership team even went down a list one by one, calling their caucus’s remaining hold-outs — a last-gasp campaign that took place as lawmakers grew more frustrated by the hour at the delay of the August recess.

Pelosi, who thanked Waters for her work on the issue, acknowledged part of the problem was the last-minute notice from White House about the need to handle legislatively.

"I have no criticism of the administration for what they are doing for what they see as the law." Pelosi said. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called it "unfortunate,” while House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn described it as "inconvenient."

Earlier Friday afternoon, top Democrats began floating an alternative that they hoped would pick up votes from the moderate wing of their caucus — an extension of just over three months, rather than six months – on what is likely to be the House’s final task before departing for its lengthy August recess. But moderates remained unconvinced.

The White House, meanwhile, released a statement urging state and local governments to dole out more funds from the pool of available emergency rental assistance.

“Every state and local government must get these funds out to ensure we prevent every eviction we can,” Biden said in a statement Friday as the whip operation in the House dragged on.

Some Democratic lawmakers have privately said they are outraged by the debacle and the lack of notice from the White House, which on Thursday urged Congress to pass legislation extending the ban to give state and local governments more time to disburse $46.5 billion in rental aid authorized earlier this year. The plea arrived just before the national halt on evictions was set to expire this weekend.

Without the moratorium, millions of families could be at risk of homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic. But many on the Hill argue that the White House could have — and should have — taken action on its own, despite the possibility of a legal tangle that the Biden administration cited as its reasoning for not extending the ban on its own.

Democrats remained short by at least a dozen votes as of Friday afternoon, and patience was running thin, with lawmakers increasingly incensed about sticking around Washington with no timeline to vote, according to people familiar with the discussion. Some Democrats had begun leaving for the airports, and others were waiting in their offices with their cars packed.

Pelosi and her leadership team have faced a group of entrenched holdouts including moderates who say the extension shouldn't go beyond Sept. 30. Several Democrats across the caucus argue there’s little point in forcing a vote when the Senate is unlikely to be able to win 10 Republican votes for the measure.

“I don’t see how we go home without” extending the moratorium, Pelosi told Democrats on a private call Friday morning.

Across the Capitol, Senate Democratic leaders were also weighing their options. The Senate will be in town next week, but it remains unlikely that Democrats can reach an agreement with GOP leaders who could filibuster the bill.

“We'll see what the House says but we’re gonna do something here” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday.

Asked about the issue on Friday, Pelosi essentially put the onus on the Biden administration to extend the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eviction moratorium.

"We’re going to have to find a solution," Pelosi said. "I think that the CDC can."

Pelosi’s renewed pleas follow a furious Thursday night demand from House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who implored Democrats to try to pass the Dec. 31 extension bill on the floor during a tense conversation with Pelosi and her leadership team. Later Thursday evening, Pelosi sent an emotional letter to her colleagues, invoking the Gospel of Matthew to stress the “responsibility to provide shelter to those in need.”

“In the last 24 hours, a challenge to the conscience of the Congress has descended upon us, as millions of Covid-affected renter households are facing eviction,” Pelosi wrote.

That task grew trickier on Friday morning, when Pelosi’s already-tight margin shrunk by one vote as Republicans added the winner of a Tuesday Texas special election — Rep. Jake Ellzey — to their conference.

While Pelosi believes the CDC can act unilaterally, a White House official countered that such action would cause more long-term legal issues and said the administration is deploying resources to help renters and landlords through emergency rental aid. State and local governments have struggled to distribute the $46.5 billion in rental assistance, with only 6.5 percent sent to landlords and tenants as of the end of June.

The official pointed to a Supreme Court decision last month that indicated a majority of justices believed the CDC exceeded its authority when it imposed the ban in September. If the CDC does act on its own, the official said, it could provoke a subsequent harmful ruling. Ultimately, that could make it harder for the CDC to impose future moratoriums based on public health conditions.

The White House did not answer specific questions about why it waited until Thursday to call on Congress to pass an extension, but the White House official said the CDC’s hands are tied by the high court’s decision. The official added that due to the Delta variant, the situation has changed week by week and the landscape has changed from one month ago.

Supporters of the legislation were losing hope that the bill would come to a vote on Friday before members leave town, with one housing activist warning that a decision to not even take up a vote would be “devastating for renters who are already feeling abandoned.”

Landlords and industry groups, meanwhile, rallied quickly to oppose the bill.

A coalition of 14 industry groups representing property owners and operators, developers and mortgage lenders fired off a letter to lawmakers late Thursday night urging them to “end the unsustainable nationwide federal restrictions on property operations” and instead focus on accelerating the distribution of rental aid.

“The moratorium unfairly shifts economic hardships to the backs of housing providers who have jeopardized their own financial futures to provide essential housing to renters across the country,” the groups, led by the National Association of Realtors, wrote.

The ban has been “especially difficult” for the mom-and-pop landlords who provide 40 percent of the country’s rental units and who “continue to pay mortgages, taxes, insurance, and maintain the safety of their properties for tenants with less or, in many cases, no rental income,” they wrote.

The eviction moratorium problem has landed in Democrats' laps at a time when tensions were already running high in the House, with lawmakers confronting each other in hallways and getting into shouting matches in hearings amid frustrations over a renewed mask mandate and investigations into Jan. 6.

Asked Thursday night if Democrats were short of votes to extend the moratorium, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer quipped: "You are just a keen analyst.”

Laura Barrón-López and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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