WASHINGTON: (thehill): House Democratic leaders failed to round up enough votes on Friday to pass legislation extending the federal ban on evictions just two days before it is set to expire, ultimately adjourning the chamber for a long summer recess with no path forward on the issue.
After hours of inactivity on the House floor as Democratic leaders worked to corral support for legislative action, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) tried to pass a bill by unanimous consent that would have renewed the moratorium through Oct. 18, but Republicans objected.
While Republicans objected to the bill’s passage on the floor, the House’s inability to advance legislation was also a result of Democrats’ inability to unite around the best path forward — a failure they blamed on the short, one-day notice they’d been given by the Biden administration.
“We only learned of this yesterday — not enough time to socialize it within our caucus as well as to build the consensus, especially in a time of COVID,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) explained after the failed vote.
Party leaders are now vowing to keep working on the legislation to win more Democratic support, with designs to vote on the bill in the coming weeks, when the House may reconvene to deal with a budget package under consideration in the Senate.
“We have advised members that they may well be back here in a fashion … which would keep this issue very much alive [and] very much in our focus and ready to act,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
The diplomatic sentiments from party leaders disguised the underlying internal tensions that hounded the day’s debate and will now carry into the August break.
Moderate Democrats, eager to leave Washington, were fuming at leadership for keeping the caucus in town until late in the day.
Liberals, fighting for the most robust renter protections they could muster, were furious with the Biden administration for waiting so long to request a congressional fix; with moderates, for prioritizing the vacation over the renter assistance; and with leadership, for adjourning the chamber without adopting a fix.
And even party leaders — loath to break with President Biden — were notably agitated with the administration for its 11th hour entreaty that Congress act before a deadline that all parties knew for weeks was coming.
Pelosi couldn’t quite find the right word to describe her feelings toward the White House, but others were happy to help out.
“Unfortunate,” said Hoyer.
“Inconvenient,” said House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).
And liberals were even more fierce.
“The fact that this statement came out just yesterday is unacceptable,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). “I want to make that very clear. Because the excuses that we’ve been hearing about it, I do not accept them.”
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the head of the House Financial Services Committee and author of the eviction moratorium bill, took the remarkable step of breaking with Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn by refusing to endorse their strategy of rushing the bill to the floor by unanimous consent — a gambit doomed from the start. Waters wanted the bill to go through the regular order and receive a recorded vote.
“I did not sign on to the statement or join any of them because I just thought that we should have fought harder,” a frustrated Waters told reporters just off the chamber floor. “I agree that we didn’t have the votes. But what I did not agree to was that we didn’t take it up.”
Just steps away, looking on as she spoke, were Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn.
Researchers at the Aspen Institute estimated this week that as many as 15 million people could be at risk of facing evictions with the expiration of the federal moratorium, which ends on Sunday. And liberal members of the “squad” were irate that the House was leaving town without helping them.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who lived out of her car for a time and has been evicted three times, pressed her colleagues to show more empathy for people at risk of eviction.
“I know firsthand the trauma and devastation that comes with the violence of being evicted, and we have a responsibility to do everything we can to prevent this trauma from being inflicted on our neighbors and communities,” she wrote in a letter to colleagues.
Democrats were caught by surprise on Thursday when Biden urged Congress to extend the eviction ban, which has been in place since last September and was renewed as recently as June 24.
Biden insisted that his administration no longer has the authority to unilaterally extend the moratorium due to a Supreme Court ruling last month.
That left House Democratic leaders scrambling to round up enough votes in their own caucus, given Republican opposition to extending the moratorium.
Even if House Democrats had passed a bill, it would have all but certainly failed in the Senate due to widespread opposition from Republicans — a dynamic that seemed to contribute to Pelosi’s decision to adjourn Friday without a deal.
“The prospect in the Senate did not look too good,” she said.
Shortly before the House adjourned, Biden issued a statement Friday calling on state and local governments “to take all possible steps to immediately disburse” emergency rental assistance funds.
“Every state and local government must get these funds out to ensure we prevent every eviction we can,” Biden said.
Pelosi and her team initially pushed for an extension that would last until Dec. 31. But the vote count fell far short amid resistance from moderates and housing industry groups.
House Democrats can currently afford only three defections and still pass bills on their own without support from Republicans. Democratic sources said Friday they were short by more than a dozen votes, which proved to be insurmountable despite more than a day of persuasion attempts by party leaders.
Pelosi later proposed a compromise of only extending the eviction ban to Oct. 18, in part to appease centrists who preferred ending the moratorium by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The Oct. 18 date would have coincided with the end of the public health emergency declaration issued by the Biden administration.
Lawmakers expressed frustration that the $46.5 billion in rental aid allocated by Congress by pandemic relief measures is still largely unspent, with only $3 billion distributed to renters by state and local governments thus far. Indeed, Clyburn, the whip, said that issue was the single greatest barrier to achieving a deal on Friday.
“A lot of the members were very concerned that this money’s all bottled up. And they want to know: what can we do to get the money out of these offices and into the landlords’ and tenants’ pockets? You can extend it, and it’s still bottled up,” Clyburn said. “That gave our members more angst than anything else.”
But Democrats pushing to extend the moratorium argued that renters shouldn’t be evicted in the meantime as a result of bureaucratic failures.
“There cannot be mass evictions right now,” said Ocasio-Cortez.
The National Association of Realtors urged lawmakers to direct rental assistance toward housing providers in a statement opposing another extension of the eviction moratorium.
“Nearly half of all rental housing in America is a mom-and-pop operation, and these providers cannot continue to live in a state of financial hardship,” said Shannon McGahn, chief advocacy officer for the group.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) renewed the eviction ban on June 24 through the end of July, saying it would be the last extension.
The Supreme Court warned the Biden administration on June 29 that the CDC did not have the authority to issue the ban and that any further extensions would need to be enacted by Congress.
With the increased threat of the delta variant of the coronavirus, the White House pushed for another extension of the eviction ban on Thursday.
“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available,” she added.
The eviction moratorium bill wasn’t the only measure scrapped from Friday’s House floor schedule due to Democratic leaders’ inability to round up enough votes in their caucus.
The House was also set to possibly consider an annual appropriations bill this week to fund the departments of Justice and Commerce in the next fiscal year. But Democrats couldn’t secure enough votes due to internal divisions over police reform.
“This is a balance between providing the resources that we need for our police and our police departments, and making sure that there are the safeguards in terms of making sure that we’re moving in the direction of reform,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) told The Hill.