WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Friday failed to push through a last-minute extension of the federal eviction moratorium that expires Saturday, leaving town for a seven-week recess without holding a vote.
The eleventh-hour bid, which came as thousands of people may soon face the process of being forced from their homes, faltered amid caucus divisions. About a dozen House Democrats opposed the measure and were unwilling to budge, two senior Democratic aides told NBC News.
"Definitely don't have the votes," one leadership aide said.
House Speaker Nancy Nancy Pelosi and the sponsor of a measure to extend the ban, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., were at odds Friday over whether to hold a vote and force members to make their positions publicly known.
Waters wanted a vote, which would have allowed progressive activists to blame specific Democratic lawmakers for its failure, while Pelosi didn't want to expose some of her caucus members to the wrath of the base, according to the second aide.
Ultimately, the effort died when Majority Leader Steny Hoyer tried to pass the measure by unanimous consent — a process that doesn't require a vote — and a Republican member objected. Congress is now leaving town, with the House not expected back in until Sept. 20.
The White House previously said that a recent court ruling meant the administration lacks the power to extend the moratorium and pushed responsibility to Congress.
Ahead of Hoyer's procedural move, President Joe Biden released a statement that appeared to concede defeat Friday evening.
"I call on all state and local governments to take all possible steps to immediately disburse these funds given the imminent ending of the CDC eviction moratorium," Biden said. "Every state and local government must get these funds out to ensure we prevent every eviction we can."
Even if the House had succeeded, it was unlikely to gain support in the Senate.
House Speak Nancy Pelosi, while urging the extension, also explained that the American Rescue Plan passed in December provided more than $46 billion to help renters and housing providers.
“This emergency assistance was accompanied by a moratorium on residential evictions that kept millions of renters stably housed during the pandemic,” Pelosi said of the moratorium which ends Saturday. “Of the more than $46 billion provided by Congress, only $3 billion has been distributed to renters by state and local governments. Families must not pay the price for that. Congress must act again.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Thursday that Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend the moratorium for renters, but she said, “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”
Only Congress, Psaki added, can make it happen by passing legislation.
“In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the President calls on Congress to extend the eviction moratorium to protect such vulnerable renters and their families without delay,” she said in a statement.
The House Rules Committee debated Waters’ legislation Friday morning, with Republicans arguing that Democrats were rushing the process and blaming them for not taking action sooner.
“I oppose this rushed partisan legislation for several reasons,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., testified. “First, the bill before us does not provide clear and specific clarification on CDC’s authority. It simply extends the CDC's moratorium, based on an authority the courts have ruled does not exist. The reason this bill simply extends the unlawful order is because it was written last night at the last minute, despite the White House and congressional Democrats’ full knowledge for over a month that this moratorium would lapse absent congressional action.”
Waters, meanwhile, called the situation a “crisis” and stressed that Congress must take immediate action.
“When an emergency occurs, you have to determine what are you going to do with it,” she told the Rules Committee. “Is it an emergency enough that you're going to stop families from being put on the sidewalk? Is it an emergency enough that you're going to need to wonder what the hell is going to happen with these children that won't be able to go back to school because they don't even know where they're going to be sleeping?”
Friday evening, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., expressed other frustrations.
“The reason they’re not bringing it for a vote is because some Democrats privately have tried to kill this bill because of special interest of Realtors and other groups,” he said on MSNBC. “And it is unconscionable that we don't have a vote on the House floor, that we're protecting some members to kill this behind closed doors and aren't being transparent. It's just wrong.”
Friday night, after the House adjourned for its extended August recess, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D- N.Y., and Cori Bush, D-Mo., continued to apply pressure. In an Instagram live in front of the Capitol, the congresswomen urged their followers to call their representatives and ask, “Hey, would you go back? Can you go back?” to pass the legislation.
“We're here because people need to be housed, and we need to do our job and we're not leaving until we, until this job is finished,” Ocasio-Cortez said on social media.
Bush announced that she would spend the night outside the Capitol to further draw attention to the need for a vote. “This is a dire situation. It is not OK to just say, ‘Well, you know, it just didn't happen. I'm going home.’ No, like, that's not the answer.
“I may not be the president of the United States but I still got a voice, you know. I'm in Congress. I can do something," she said.
Pledging to post regularly on social media, she added, “This is where I'll be until something happens, so if I'm out here tonight, if I'm out here all tomorrow, whatever, something has to happen.”