Capitol Hill is scrambling Friday to put together a deal to extend the eviction moratorium for renters from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before it expires Saturday night, though Democrats in the House have struggled to find a proposal that has enough support to advance.
The Supreme Court last month allowed the CDC order to stay in place until July 31 but said congressional action would be needed to extend it past that date. President Joe Biden called on Congress on Thursday to extend the moratorium to December 31, but both chambers have yet to move through the legislative process to extend the directive and the moratorium appears on track to expire barring some sort of last-minute action.
House Democratic leadership was also shopping around Friday afternoon whether the conference would support extending the eviction moratorium to just October 18 instead of to the end of the year. It is unclear if that change will garner enough support from members.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Friday morning "we will see" when asked if she thought a vote could happen Friday. The House is just hours away from the start of its scheduled seven-week August recess, though congressional leader can delay or cancel that recess and bring the chamber back into session.
But in a sign that she does not have the votes to move forward on an extension, Pelosi said at a news conference Friday that it should be the CDC to extend the moratorium and use the money that had previously been allocated to this issue because she says much of it has not been spent.
"We would like the CDC to expand the moratorium, that's where it can be done," Pelosi told reporters.
But the White House's legal team doesn't see that extension as an option. The message sent in Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's opinion allowing the last extension, which explicitly stated the moratorium was only being upheld because it would expire on July 31, led the White House legal team to settle on the position that there was no way to win if they sought another extension.
"There was no chance of winning or it even having a temporary positive impact and some chance that it could provoke a harmful ruling," the White House official said.
It's also unclear why, if the deadline has been known for weeks, Democratic leaders are scrambling to get the extension passed with little more than a day before the deadline. At her news conference Friday, Pelosi said she did not want to criticize the Executive Branch for waiting until Thursday to urge Congress to act.
"I don't want to be critical of what they have because they just made the statement yesterday," Pelosi said. "But we are not going away from this issue whether it's now or shortly thereafter."
A separate White House official noted Kavanaugh's opinion was public for all lawmakers to see, and that the White House clearly stated its intent in June that the one-month extension to July 31 would be the last.
Even if the extension passes the House, it's unlikely the Senate would be able to quickly pass the bill any time soon. The upper chamber has tied up the floor for the foreseeable future as it tries to advance a bipartisan infrastructure bill, and any quick passage would require unanimous consent from all present senators. The Senate is also slated to start its recess at the end of next week, though that too could change if leadership changes the schedule.
Put in place by the CDC last fall to help in stopping the spread of Covid-19, the order banned the eviction of renters for nonpayment of rent. The end of the moratorium could affect the estimated 11.4 million adult renters are behind on rent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Republicans have pushed back that Democrats are trying to get this done too last minute.
"The CDC order was to expire at the end of this month. They knew that in February. Democrats had the opportunity to change that. They didn't," GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina said Friday. "We've heard the priority. We've heard the emergency. But this is not an emergency. On this day it's a tragedy that it's this level of incompetency that we didn't take action in February, March, April, May, June. Even July."
As House Democratic leadership continues to hold members in session Friday afternoon when many were planning to start the August recess, a senior aide close to the moderate wing of the Democratic Party told CNN that moderates are threatening to leave and not vote proxy because it's clear the party doesn't have the votes.
"They don't have the votes and leadership is playing hard ball and trying to force members to stay," the staffer told CNN. "Moderates are now threatening to get on planes and not vote proxy."
But other Democrats have pressed that regardless of how down to the wire it is, this extension cannot be ignored.
"We have got to put a pause on this for the sake of public health," Democratic Rep. Deborah Ross of North Carolina said Friday. "For the sake of people's economic well-being, and to give people time to make this transition. I too wish that we had planned for this more in advance, but I can say that people are making some progress. We need to help people right now."
The White House is also pressing to ramp up the awareness and disbursement of the tens of billions of dollars available in rental assistance and grantees from the Covid relief laws enacted late last year and in March. The pace of that aid going out the door has been a concern for lawmakers and administration officials alike, as they've sought to press local officials to disburse the money more rapidly widely.
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.
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