Potential eviction of millions of Americans splits Democrats

End of Covid-19 rent measure sparks calls for House of Representatives to return from recess

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY protests on the steps to the House of Representatives at the US Capitol Building for an extension of the eviction moratorium. Video: Reuters

 

A growing rift is emerging between Democrats in the US House of Representatives over the expiration of a rent-related moratorium that could leave millions of Americans facing eviction.

Three members of Congress slept on the steps of the US Capitol over the weekend to protest the end of the measure that protected renters from eviction during the Covid pandemic.

Among them was Missouri congresswoman Cory Bush, who was evicted three times and lived in her car with her two children before her career in politics. The moratorium expired on Saturday night, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has faced calls to recall the House of Representatives from its August recess to enact new legislation.

New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hit out at members of her own party for letting the moratorium lapse, branding them “cowards”.

“We cannot in good faith blame House Republicans when Democrats have the majority,” she said. “There was frankly a handful of conservative Democrats in the House that threatened to get on planes rather than hold this vote.”

Ms Pelosi on Monday called on the White House to act to extend the moratorium, having earlier blamed Republicans for not permitting her to move forward with a temporary measure.

Protection for tenants

Last week, the Biden administration urged Congress to legislate for more protections for renters. The White House has argued that a recent supreme court ruling prevented it from acting, and instead the power rested with Congress. But Democrats – including Ms Pelosi – have voiced frustration that the executive branch waited until the final days of the legislative session to urge Congress to act. The issue has opened up a rare rift between the White House and the Democratically controlled House. “Action is needed & it must come from the Administration,” Ms Pelosi tweeted.

Millions of Americans fell behind with rent payments during the pandemic, and while Congress approved $45 billion in emergency federal funding to help renters, some states have been slow to disburse these funds to residents.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Saturday during a rare weekend session, Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren said that many Americans were “losing the bedrock of their safety and stability”, stating that one out of every seven renters reported being behind in repayments. “I agree that the eviction moratorium is not a long-term solution, but let me be very clear, it is the right short-term action,” she said. “It’s how we keep families who are starting to recover from the worst economic crisis of their lifetime get back on their feet.”

Infrastructure package

Meanwhile, the Senate notched up a major legislative win, as senators finally agreed on the details of President Joe Biden’s signature infrastructure package over the weekend. The sprawling 2,700-page Bill is expected to be advanced in the Senate this week. The $1 trillion spending plan represents one of the biggest investments in America’s infrastructure in decades. Among the proposals to help pay for the package is tougher tax oversight of the crypto currency industry. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is permitting amendments to be made, which could delay the process of ratification. He has said he intends to hold a vote on a separate $3.5 trillion package that will include spending on items like healthcare and education, before the Senate breaks for the summer. Senior Republican Mitch McConnell welcomed the agreement, but warned that it should not be the Senate’s “last word”, suggesting that Republicans would table many amendments.

The passage of the Bill through the House of Representatives could also be problematic. Democrats like Ms Ocasio-Cortez have said they won’t take up the $1 trillion infrastructure package for consideration unless the senate first passes the second proposal, which progressive Democrats hope will include many of their priorities.

Meanwhile, Mr Biden arrived back at the White House from Camp David on Monday and was due to deliver remarks at a virtual fundraising event for the Democratic National Committee that night.

According to reports, Mr Biden will not attend a 60th birthday party for former president Barack Obama that is scheduled to take place next Saturday at Mr Obama’s holiday home at Martha’s Vineyard. Mr Biden will instead make his first visit as president to his beach house in Rehoboth, Delaware.