WASHINGTON — Anger and frustration grew in Congress over the weekend as a nationwide eviction moratorium came amid escalation in the COVID-19 pandemic. A Democratic lawmaker 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 Saturday midnight deadline neared, some furious that they called on Congress to provide a last-minute solution to protect renters. The rare split between the president and his party had a potentially lasting political impact.
New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Sunday that Democrats should “call a spade a spade” after the deadline.
“We cannot in good faith blame the Republican Party when the House Democrats have a majority,” the progressive congressman said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats joined Representative Corey Bush, D-Mo, Saturday evening and overnight as Bush camped outside the Capitol on Sunday. “I don’t plan to leave before there is any change,” Bush said, although the House had already left for the August recess.
More than 3.6 million Americans are at risk of eviction, some within a matter of days. The moratorium was imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the COVID-19 crisis when jobs shifted and many workers lost their income.
Democrats collapsed in despair.
Maxine Waters, D-Calif., chairman of the Financial Services Committee, said Saturday on CNN: “We thought the White House was in charge.”
“We have the equipment, and we have the money,” Warren said. “What we need is time.”
The eviction ban was intended to stop the virus spreading by people kept on the streets and in shelters. Congress approved about $47 billion in federal housing aid to states during the pandemic, but it has been slow to make it into the hands of renters and landlords to pay dues.
A day before the ban ended, Biden called on local governments to “take all possible steps” to disburse the funds immediately.
“There can be no excuse for any state or locality not to expedite funds to landlords and tenants suffering during this pandemic,” he said in a statement late Friday.
Brian Deez, the director of the White House National Economic Council, echoed that sentiment on Fox News Channel on Sunday. “No landlord should be evicted without that rental assistance, and states and localities need to take that money out immediately, and they can do that,” Deez said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged House Democrats in a letter Saturday night to examine how already allocated funds have been distributed to their own states and territories so far. She said the Treasury Department, which transferred the money earlier in the year, offered to brief lawmakers next week.
Biden started a scuffle by announcing Thursday that he would allow the eviction ban to end, rather than challenge a recent Supreme Court ruling, that would be the last deadline.
The White House has made it clear that Biden would prefer to extend the federal eviction moratorium because of the spread of the highly contagious Delta version of the coronavirus. But there were also concerns that challenging the court could lead to a decision limiting the administration’s ability to respond to future public health crises.
Biden called on Congress on Thursday to pass legislation expeditiously to extend the date, heeding the court’s warning.
Rushing to respond, Democrats pressed for a bill to be drafted and rally votes. Pelosi called on allies to pass legislation extending the deadline, calling it a “moral imperative,” to protect renters and landlords who have been compensated.
Waters quickly drafted a bill that would require the CDC to continue the ban until December 31. In a hurried hearing on Friday morning to consider the bill, he urged his colleagues to act.
But Rep. Kathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the top Republican on another panel handling the issue, said the Democrats’ bill was taken in haste.
“This is not the way to make laws,” she said.
The landlords are against any extension. They, too, are arguing for expediting the delivery of rental assistance.
The National Apartment Association and several others filed a federal lawsuit this week seeking $26 billion in damages due to the effect of the moratorium.
Despite wrangling behind the scenes all day on Friday, Democratic lawmakers had questions and concerns and could not muster support to push the ban.
18, by modifying the emergency law to shorten the eviction deadline in line with federal COVID-19 guidelines, drew some more lawmakers in support – but still not enough to pass.
House Democrats tried to approve the expansion by consent without a formal vote, but House Republicans resisted.
Democratic lawmakers were shocked by the prospect of evictions in the midst of a growing pandemic.
Bush, who experienced homelessness at age 20 as a young mother of two, said that, at the time, she was working in a low-paying job.
“I don’t want anyone else to ever go through what I went through,” Bush, 45, said with a tear. “I don’t care what the circumstances are, and so I’m going to fight now that I’m in a position to be able to do something about it.”
Waters said House leaders should have forced a vote and that warnings from a Supreme Court judge should not have prevented Biden from taking executive action to block the eviction.
“The president should have moved on on this,” Waters said. He vowed to try to pass the bill again when the MPs return from recess.
Some places are likely to see an increase in evictions from Monday, while other jurisdictions will see an increase in court filings leading to evictions over several months.
The administration is trying to keep the tenants at the place through other means. It released more than $1.5 billion in rental assistance in June, helping nearly 300,000 families. The Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs extended their foreclosure-related eviction moratorium on families living in federally insured, single-family homes late Friday, when Biden told them to do so. was asked for.
Associated Press writers Marie Claire Jalonik, Alexandra Jaffe, Mark Sherman and Alan Fram contributed to this report.