WASHINGTON — By the time President Biden returned from his weekend retreat at Camp David on Monday, his White House was engulfed in a political crisis as thousands of families faced the risk of eviction in the middle of a resurgent pandemic.
Progressive Democrats were publicly assailing the administration for allowing an eviction ban to expire that past Saturday and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, unable to secure the votes to approve an extension, was demanding Mr. Biden find a different solution.
The president, who had been largely focused on securing bipartisan support for his infrastructure bill, was caught off-guard by the ferocity of the reaction after a month in which Democratic lawmakers had been largely silent. His initial move to at least deflect blame by calling on Congress to extend the ban just two days before it expired hadn’t worked, and it infuriated Ms. Pelosi in the process.
Mr. Biden and his aides claimed their hands were legally tied by a recent Supreme Court ruling that strongly suggested — but did not explicitly say — that the nationwide evictions moratorium exceeded the government’s emergency powers under a public health law. But Ms. Pelosi did not accept that explanation.
culminating in an announcement on Tuesday of a new, narrower eviction ban in counties where the virus is raging.
By reversing course, Mr. Biden is taking a calculated risk, opting for an iffy legal strategy in hopes of preventing a shattering eviction crisis that would hit the vulnerable people he has vowed to protect, and defuse a political backlash from the left that could endanger his larger agenda in Congress. The new moratorium is already facing a court challenge and Mr. Biden himself questioned its legal prospects hours before it was formally announced.
“The bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster,” the president said on Tuesday afternoon. “But there are several key scholars who think that it may — and it’s worth the effort.”
How Mr. Biden found himself in a last-ditch, frantic effort to try to keep people in their homes and defuse a crisis that had the potential to inflict deep political damage underscores the cautious approach of a president who failed to anticipate how quickly Ms. Pelosi and other Democrats would escalate a pressure campaign aimed directly at the White House.
remained frozen because of concerns about giving funds to people who didn’t really need it. The White House, racing to disburse as much cash as possible before the freeze expired, blamed the local governments.
On July 21, Treasury disclosed just $3 billion out of about $47 billion had been deployed by the states and cities that got the money.
“It is a national shame,” Susan Rice, the director of the Domestic Policy Council, said in an interview this week, “that our state and local entities have not taken advantage of this substantial investment from Congress to prevent exactly what we are concerned about.”
Activists had been warning for weeks that renters were at high risk for being hurt once the moratorium expired, but while progressives were grumbling about the issue, it was a low roar at best from Capitol Hill.