WASHINGTON — Amid backlash and protests, the White House on Monday scrambled to defend President Joe Biden’s decision to not extend a federal eviction moratorium, which could leave millions of Americans out of their homes.
White House officials described an all-hands-on-deck scramble over the weekend to try and find a legal way for the administration to halt any evictions from taking place.
The daily press briefing was delayed over two hours from its original start time. In that time, the White House released a lengthy statement, saying the federal government has provided $46.5 billion to keep renters in their homes and placed the blame on states and cities, saying they were “too slow to act”.
“The Administration has provided states and local governments with the flexibility to get funds out efficiently without burdensome documentation; to use funds to help those who are homeless or in need of new housing; to use American Rescue Plan State and local funds to expend any effort to help those whose housing is at risk due to the pandemic,” the statement partially read.
Gene Sperling, the White House official responsible for managing coronavirus relief efforts, said at Monday’s briefing the White House does not have the authority to extend the moratorium.
“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court declared on June 29 that the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] could not grant such an extension without clear and specific congressional authorization,” Sterling said.
The shift to focus on the states comes as Biden faces criticism, including some from within his own party, that he was too slow to address the expiring moratorium. The Congressional Black Caucus has put even more pressure on the White House to act and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), who camped out at the U.S. Capitol all weekend in protest, met with Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday.
Sperling outlined the measures Biden had authorized, which includes directing agencies to keep trying to prevent evictions.
“I don’t think this means this President is going to give up,” Sterling said. “I think he’s going to keep looking, keep pushing.”
Still, a clear and rare disconnect with Congress was obvious. Progressive Democrats leaders continued to call on Biden and the White House to extend the moratorium despite the administration saying he lacks the legal authority to do it.
The White House shot back but stopped short of blaming congressional leaders. Instead, they said the situation has been evident since June when the court ruled an extension would require Congress’ backing. They also accused the Trump administration of leaving them unworkable guidelines for distributing rental assistance.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on the Biden administration to take action in a joint statement from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Whip James Clyburn, and Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark.
“Action is needed, and it must come from the Administration,” the statement read.
Sperling insisted Biden was still “kicking the tires” on his power for extending the freeze on evictions.
“If some states and localities can get this out efficiently and effectively, there’s no reason every state and locality can’t,” Sperling said. “There’s simply no excuse, no place to hide for any state or locality that is failing to accelerate the emergency rental assistance fund.”