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Anger mounts as Biden, Congress allow eviction ban to expire

  • House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., left, and House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., go over their notes as they prepare an emergency extension of the eviction moratorium Friday at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — Anger and frustration mounted in Congress over the weekend as a nationwide eviction moratorium expired during a surge in the COVID-19 pandemic. One Democratic lawmaker even camped outside the Capitol in protest as millions of Americans faced being forced from their homes.

Lawmakers said they were blindsided by President Joe Biden’s inaction as the midnight Saturday deadline neared, some furious that he called on Congress to provide a last-minute solution to protect renters. The rare division between the president and his party carried potential lasting political ramifications.

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New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Sunday that Democrats have to “call a spade a spade” after the deadline expired.

“We cannot in good faith blame the Republican Party when House Democrats have a majority,” the progressive congresswoman said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats joined Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., on Saturday evening and overnight Sunday as Bush camped outside the Capitol. “I don’t plan to leave before some type of change happens,” Bush said, though the House had already left for its August recess. More than 3.6 million Americans are at risk of eviction, some in a matter of days. The moratorium was put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the COVID-19 crisis when jobs shifted and many workers lost income. Democrats piled on in frustration.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the chair of the Financial Services Committee, said Saturday on CNN: “We thought that the White House was in charge.”

“We are only hours away from a fully preventable housing crisis,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., during a floor speech in a rare Saturday session as senators labored over an infrastructure package.

“We have the tools, and we have the funding,” Warren said. “What we need is the time.”

The eviction ban was intended to prevent further virus spread by people put out on the streets and into shelters. Congress approved nearly $47 billion in federal housing aid to the states during the pandemic, but it has been slow to make it into the hands of renterss.

The day before the ban was set to expire, Biden called on local governments to “take all possible steps” to disburse the funds.

“There can be no excuse for any state or locality not accelerating funds to landlords and tenants that have been hurt during this pandemic,” he said in a statement late Friday.

Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, echoed that sentiment on Fox News Sunday. “No landlord should evict without seeking that rental assistance, and states and localities need to get that money out urgently, and they can do that,” Deese said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged House Democrats in a letter Saturday night to check into how the money already allocated has been distributed so far in their own states and localities.

Biden set off the scramble by announcing Thursday he would allow the eviction ban to expire instead of challenging a recent Supreme Court ruling signaling this would be the last deadline.

The White House has been clear that Biden would have liked to extend the federal eviction moratorium because of the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. But there were also concerns that challenging the court could lead to a ruling restricting the administration’s ability to respond to future public health crises.

On a 5-4 vote in late June, the Supreme Court allowed the broad eviction ban to continue through the end of July. One of those in the majority, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, made clear he would block any additional extensions unless there was “clear and specific congressional authorization.”

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Biden, heeding the court’s warning, called on Congress on Thursday to swiftly pass legislation to extend the date.

Racing to respond, Democrats strained to draft a bill and rally the votes. Pelosi implored colleagues to pass legislation extending the deadline, calling it a “moral imperative,” to protect renters and also the landlords who are owed compensation.

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