Pelosi Bid to Stop Evictions Crumbles in Setback for Biden
(Bloomberg) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s bid for a last-minute extension of an eviction moratorium for renters collapsed Friday, leaving millions of Americans at risk of losing their homes after the ban lifts on Saturday.
Pelosi’s efforts, coming on the heels of a public plea made Thursday morning by President Joe Biden, marks a rare political defeat for the speaker, who has exercised tight control over House Democrats.
The California Democrat spent much of the day Friday trying to unify her caucus behind legislation to extend the moratorium until Oct. 18 but ultimately came up short. The House adjourned without taking up the bill.
“There was a lot of support by the caucus but not enough,” said Democratic Representative Maxine Waters, chair of the Financial Services committee. The deadline was no secret on Capitol Hill or at the White House, and Republicans as well as some Democrats faulted Biden for waiting until Thursday to speak publicly on the matter.
Pelosi in a news conference after the House adjourned said Democrats “will not forget this issue.” She added that she hoped that as more federal aid flows to tenants and landlords there would be less of a need for the government to stop evictions.
Shortly before the House adjourned, Biden implored states and localities to spend their money “immediately” to forestall an eviction crisis.
Pelosi and her leadership team spent much of the day pressuring Democrats as they tried to find the votes with most Republicans opposed.
“We’re counting, we’re counting,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said earlier in the day.
At the same time, landlords were pushing hard against any further extension of the moratorium, calling it “unsustainable” for mom-and-pop owners in particular.
“While well-intentioned, the national eviction moratorium has made providing rental housing unaffordable for many property owners,” the National Multifamily Housing Council said in a statement.
Congress has approved $47 billion in rent relief funding since December, but state programs to distribute that money have been mired in bureaucracy and miscommunication, a growing frustration for tenants and landlords alike.
Amid the landlords’ lobbying push, Democrats’ vote-counting became more difficult. Pelosi swore in a new Republican House member Friday morning, bringing the Democratic majority to 220 to 212. She could only lose three Democratic votes, if every Republican opposed the measure.
Reality was setting in by late afternoon that there were simply not enough Democratic votes in the House. Even if there had been, chances of a moratorium extension getting through the Senate were dim.
The speaker was still portraying the fight for passage as continuing, publicly releasing a second “Dear Colleague” letter to colleagues urging them to back the extension.
Pelosi picked up some support when she agreed to shorten the extension of the moratorium from Dec. 31 to Oct. 18.
But several Democrats, particularly moderates, could not be persuaded, multiple people familiar with the effort said.
‘A Known Disaster’
Without solid Democratic support to call a roll call vote, Hoyer attempted at the end of the day to seek unanimous consent for the extension. But Representative Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, objected, ending any chances.
McHenry earlier Friday said he was outraged over how the administration had handled the issue -- and that Republicans had been making inquiries it what to do as the moratorium’s expiration was approaching.
“This was a known disaster,” McHenry said.
One Democratic official angrily said that the effort by mid-afternoon was little more than theater. Pelosi continued to publicly project that she was fighting hard, but her aides were growing resigned to defeat and increasingly resentful of Biden, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversation.
“President Biden has called on us to act without delay to extend a national eviction moratorium that is scheduled to expire on Saturday,” House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern said Friday. “I quite frankly wished he’d asked us sooner.”
Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the administration’s lack of action “reckless and irresponsible.” After the House efforts failed on Friday, she said, “Everybody knew this was coming. No matter whose fault it is, what was promised to people has not been given.”
Several progressives held an overnight vigil outside the Capitol, and Representative Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat, was still there by mid-day Saturday.
Bush, who once was homeless, said she has not heard from Pelosi or Biden. She called on Congress to return to act on extending the moratorium.
She was joined by Senator Elizabeth Warren, who urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend the moratorium until the states can distribute the money. The Supreme Court has made clear, however, that it’s up to Congress to do so.
“Money is coming, money has already been allocated,” added Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat. “So no one’s asking the landlords to have to suffer as a result of this. We want to get the money out the door to the landlords.”
The White House said Friday that the administration had been working with local governments to get aid money already approved out to renters and landlords.
“We have been working really hard in a whole of government approach that we do here at this White House and this administration and we’ll continue to do that,” deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
The White House said its own hands were tied by an opinion last month from Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh that signaled Congress -- and not the administration -- would have to authorize any additional extensions.
Some Democrats pointed their fingers at the Supreme Court, while others blamed governors for failing to distribute rent relief funds quickly enough.
Millions at Risk
Pelosi, in a Thursday night letter to fellow lawmakers, called the extension a “moral imperative” as the nation battles rising Covid-19 cases.
Several federal agencies stepped in after Biden’s Thursday plea to provide moratoriums for smaller segments of renters through the end of September. New York and California have their own moratoriums through August and September, respectively, as do other states.
But that covers just a fraction of the estimated 3.6 million households at risk for eviction, according to the most recent Census Bureau survey. A total of 7.4 million renters have said they’ve fallen behind on rent during the pandemic.
Disparate state and local distribution programs have been mired in bureaucracy, and lackluster outreach efforts have left millions unaware that help is even available.
The Treasury Department had distributed the first tranche of funds, totaling $25 billion, to state and local jurisdictions by early February. Only 6% of that money had been disbursed to tenants and landlords by the end of May, with more than 80 jurisdictions having yet to start.
Distribution picked up in June, with more money distributed than all previous months combined. But the vast majority of the $47 billion total allocation remains unspent.
So, millions of Americans could find themselves in eviction proceedings as soon as Monday.
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