WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic leaders on Sunday called on the Biden administration to immediately extend the nation's eviction moratorium, calling it a "moral imperative" to prevent Americans from being put out of their homes during a COVID-19 surge.
An estimated 3.6 billion Americans are at risk of eviction, some as soon as Monday.
Congress was unable to pass legislation swiftly to extend the ban, which expired at midnight Saturday, and the Democratic leaders said in a statement that it was now up to President Joe Biden's administration to act. They called on the administration to extend the moratorium through Oct. 18.
"Action is needed, and it must come from the Administration," Pelosi said in the statement signed by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Whip James E. Clyburn and Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark. "Science and reason demand that they must also extend the moratorium in light of the delta variant. Doing so is a moral imperative."
Some Democratic lawmakers said they were caught by surprise last Thursday when Biden announced that he would not extend the moratorium again in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that suggested congressional action was necessary for another extension. Lawmakers were left with only days to act before the ban expired, creating frustration and anger and exposing a rare rift with the administration.
On Sunday, hours after the expiration, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said that Democrats had to "call a spade a spade" and pointed to her own party.
"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., who camped outside the Capitol over the weekend in protest.
On Saturday, with no legislative action pending, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the chair of the Financial Services Committee, told CNN, "We thought that the White House was in charge."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the ban in place as part of the COVID-19 response when jobs shifted and many workers lost income. The ban was intended to hold back the spread of the virus among people put out on the streets and into shelters.
Another source of frustration for lawmakers is the slow pace of pandemic relief already approved by Congress — nearly $47 billion in federal housing aid to the states — getting to renters and landlords owed payments. Biden has 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 accelerating funds to landlords and tenants that have been hurt during this pandemic," Biden said in a statement Friday.
Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, appeared on "Fox News Sunday" to echo that sentiment. "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.
Landlords also have argued for speeding up the distribution of rental assistance and opposed another extension of the moratorium.
As the deadline approached Saturday night, Pelosi urged House Democrats to check into how the money already allocated had been distributed so far in their own states and localities. She said the Treasury Department, which transferred the funds earlier in the year, offered to brief lawmakers during the coming week.
When the Supreme Court voted 5-4 in late June to allow 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."
The White House has maintained that Biden wanted to extend the moratorium but that concerns remained over challenging the court. Doing so could lead to a ruling restricting the administration's ability to respond to future public health crises.
While racing to respond to Biden's announcement Thursday that congressional action was needed, Democrats strained to draft a bill and rally the votes. Waters produced a draft of a bill that would require the CDC to continue the ban through Dec. 31. At a hastily arranged hearing Friday morning to consider the bill, she urged her colleagues to act.
In the end, Democratic lawmakers had questions and concerns and could not muster support to extend the ban.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the top Republican on another panel handling the issue, said the Democrats' bill was rushed and that "this is not the way to legislate."