Aug 2, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Evictions lead to rare clash between the White House and Dems

Demonstrators listen as Rep. Cori Bush, a Democrat from Missouri, right, speaks at the U.S. Capitol during a protest against the expiration of the eviction moratorium. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House and Democratic leaders have been dueling — publicly and privately — over who should take responsibility for extending an eviction moratorium that could protect millions of people on the verge of homelessness.

Why it matters: It's a rare moment of dysfunction between the usually-in-lockstep Biden team and congressional leadership.

  • The White House had said its hands were tied last month by the Supreme Court and that Congress must pass a bill to extend the ban on evictions.
  • Democratic leaders contend that the Biden administration can and must extend the federal moratorium in place since last September to prevent landlords from evicting tenants regardless of whether they're able to make rent.
  • The moratorium has now expired, paving the way for landlords to evict renters again.

The latest: Tellingly, the White House shifted its rhetoric Monday afternoon, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying the president has asked his government to explore all options for extending the eviction ban through executive action even though his lawyers have found no authority so far.

Between the lines: House Democrats argue the Biden Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should just go ahead and extend the eviction ban even if they know it's likely the courts will overrule them.

  • Their argument: The facts on the ground have changed since the Supreme Court ruling with the Delta variant's rapid spread, and litigation could buy time for the states to disperse more money to renters and landlords or for Congress to cobble together a solution.
  • But in her statement Psaki made clear that the head of the CDC will not act against her lawyers' advice — even turning down a Sunday effort from Biden to call for a "targeted" 30-day extension of the ban.
  • "To date, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and her team have been unable to find legal authority for a new, targeted eviction moratorium," Psaki said in the statement.

Be smart: Contradicting statements between the White House and congressional leaders happened every other week in the turbulent days of Trump. But avoiding that dynamic has been a guiding mantra of this administration.

Behind the scenes: The White House, led by chief of staff Ron Klain, has mostly operated in quiet synchronicity with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — resolving their differences behind closed doors before presenting coordinated and carefully-sequenced statements to the public. But coordination collapsed here.

  • The Biden administration apparently blindsided Pelosi when it announced Thursday that Congress must act to extend the eviction moratorium.
  • When Pelosi and Schumer met with the president on Friday they told him they didn't have the votes to pass an extension of the eviction ban through the House and Senate, said a source familiar with the private conversation.
  • On Sunday night, Democratic House leaders issued an unusual joint statement telling the administration that "action is needed," it's a "moral imperative to keep people from being put out on the street" and the action "must come from the administration."

What they're saying: Progressives such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been publicly blaming the White House. But it's not just the progressive wing that feels let down.

  • "They dropped the ball," said a senior Democratic aide, referring to the White House. "Throwing this to Congress on a Thursday before the House is leaving... if this legal opinion was so clear, why didn't they call on Congress to do this when the Supreme Court ruled? That's sort of the inexplicable aspect to this."
  • "Why did they [the White House] not say something earlier in the year when there were other must-pass legislative vehicles that something could have been slipped into," the aide continued.

Progressive House members urged action for months. Just last week, House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters met with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to discuss speeding up the dispersal of rental assistance.

What's next: It's unclear. The senior Democratic aide said "calling on Congress to do something is just not going to happen."

  • "So can they come up with some other executive action to address this in some way? That's the hope."

Bottom line: The White House and Democratic leadership are trying to get back on the same page — Pelosi's page.

  • After the White House issued its Monday statement, Pelosi sent out her own: "The Administration’s statement that they will be taking action to find legal authority by the CDC or other authorities to extend the moratorium is welcome."
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