Sometimes progressives are unreasonable in demanding actions from the Biden administration or the broader Democratic Party that just aren’t feasible. The White House cannot, for example, just by an act of will force the filibuster to cease to exit so long as one Senate Democrat (say, Joe Manchin) finds it in his rational self-interest to defend that obstructionist Senate tradition and benefits politically from Democratic criticism. Similarly, progressive commitments to sweeping legislative concepts like Medicare for All or the Green New Deal, which turn into opposition to more incremental measures that can get through Congress, often seem self-destructive and even immoral, at least to me.
But in demanding that the White House deal with the consequences of its own apparent screwup in dealing with an eviction moratorium that has profound real-life implications for millions of vulnerable Americans, Missouri representative Cori Bush is not being unreasonable at all.
By way of background, in late June the U.S. Supreme Court put the world on notice that it would not accept the legitimacy of the CDC’s eviction moratorium (in place since last September) beyond the end of July, unless Congress acted to give it a statutory basis. For reasons that remain obscure, the administration waited until the 11th hour to deal with the problem, then Joe Biden himself issued a panicky request that Congress bless the moratorium with legal authority to continue, when it was really too late for it to happen before the moratorium expired on July 31.
Instead of shrugging and going back home to begin a planned House recess, Cori Bush, who experienced eviction and homelessness earlier in her life, decided to put the White House on the spot with a series of overnight protests at the Capitol, as Punchbowl News reported:
The Missouri Democrat’s sit-in protest over her party’s botched handling of the eviction moratorium has lasted four days. She’s been joined by colleagues, other members of the Squad and a growing number of supporters. And now, it’s exceedingly clear that the Democratic Party’s leadership and the White House have a problem on their hands.
What Bush wants is very clear: an extension of the eviction moratorium by the president with the recognition that it will be challenged and perhaps struck down in court. This would buy time for Congress to move forward on legal authorization for the moratorium as it might have done had the administration not dithered for nearly a month. In turn, that will increase pressure on lawmakers to act expeditiously on an extension either right now (since the Senate is still in session to deal with the infrastructure bill and a FY 2022 budget resolution, which the House will at least temporarily return to ratify) or when the August recess ends.
It’s still unclear how the administration let this crisis occur. Perhaps the earlier signs of an economic boom and widespread job openings convinced White House officials that the case for the moratorium had been fatally undermined, or that pressure for evictions would ebb naturally. Or perhaps it was assumed the rental assistance authorized in both the 2020 and 2021 COVID-19 stimulus bills would get to the root of the problem sooner rather than later, resolving back-rent claims and literally buying off landlords. Indeed, in the face of Bush’s protests, Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to House Democrats expressing some fresh anger at the slow implementation of Congress’s plans by both the administration and the states, as CNN reports:
Pelosi wrote that “some in our Caucus have now chosen to focus instead on how we could get the money allocated in the December Omnibus and the Biden American Rescue Plan in the hands of the renters and landlords.”
“Overwhelmingly, our Members support extending the moratorium,” the Speaker continued. “Universally, our Members demand that the $46.5 billion provided by Congress be distributed expeditiously to renters and landlords.”
So arguably the Biden administration has screwed up efforts to deal with the eviction crisis twice and cannot just blame the current situation on Congress or the courts. Yes, in general it’s good that Team Biden does not have the kind of scofflaw attitude toward court rulings that Team Trump exhibited so regularly in various bad causes. But given its tardiness in responding to the SCOTUS warning, the White House should make an exception and try again in court, in part to buy time as Bush suggests, but also because there’s a chance the rapidly changing situation created by the Delta variant might convince the courts the public-health rationale for the eviction moratorium is still compelling.
It’s sad it has taken an act of courage by a freshman member of Congress to bring this crisis to official Washington’s urgent attention. At a time when some are obsessed with performative shows of bipartisanship and others just want to take an August break, Cori Bush is asking those at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to do their real jobs.