What to Know in Washington: Biden Frustrates Allies on Evictions

The day before a moratorium on evictions is set to expire, President Joe Biden faces criticism from some of his allies for his hasty effort to preserve it — and for not acting sooner to prevent what they view as an imminent housing crisis.

Biden asked Congress yesterday to act swiftly to extend the ban on evictions, set to expire on Saturday. But Democratic lawmakers are divided on how much longer the moratorium should remain in place, and it isn’t clear whether there’s much Republican support for any extension.

White House aides have long been aware that the moratorium would expire on July 31. But the administration was caught off guard by the recent surge in Covid-19 cases fueled by the delta variant, said a senior White House official. The pandemic’s turn for the worse — combined with the slow dispersal of federal emergency rental assistance money in states and cities — has lent sudden urgency to the plight of Americans struggling to stay in their homes.

Some Democratic lawmakers and housing advocates openly expressed exasperation that the president hasn’t done more, sooner. “What they have done, and what this is, is reckless and irresponsible,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said in an interview. “And so now we’re scrambling — but it could have been avoided with better communication and, frankly, more forthright leadership from the White House.”

Ocasio-Cortez said evictions should be prevented through the end of the year. But Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), regarded as a centrist, said “a short-term extension makes sense, but we do have to return to the market.”

The House is taking steps to consider legislation today from House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) that would extend the moratorium until Dec. 31, 2021. The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. to ready the bill for the chamber’s floor.

Even if passed by the House today, the measure faces steep procedural hurdles to clear the Senate before the deadline. Read more from Nancy Cook and MacKenzie Hawkins.

Biden at the White House on Thursday
Photographer: Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg
Biden at the White House on Thursday.

Happening on the Hill

Today’s Agenda:

  • The House is in session this morning and could take up the evictions moratorium measure and several other bills under expedited procedure.
  • The Senate plans a procedural vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package as a well as Biden’s nomination to lead the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Virus Hinders Lawmakers’ Return-to-Office: Warnings that members of Congress must again don masks in response to the Covid-19 delta variant’s threat threw another wrench into attempts to resume normal operations on Capitol Hill and raised fresh concerns that congressional return-to-office plans are months away from being fully in place. Just as the complex appeared to be opening up more to guests, the Capitol’s Office of the Attending Physician reissued a new mask requirement for the House, and the Senate was urged to resume the practice. Some lawmakers said the development will add more confusion to the efforts to get all staffers back that in many cases only began within the past several weeks. Nancy Ognanovich and Emily Wilkins have more.

Congress Clears Capitol Security, Afghan Visa Money: Congress sent Biden an emergency $2.1 billion spending bill to cover costs associated with defending the Capitol in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot and to offer immigrant visas to Afghans who aided the U.S. during the war in Afghanistan. The House cleared it 416-11 yesterday after it passed the Senate on a 98-0 vote. Biden is expected to sign the bill. Looming Capitol Police funding shortfalls and the deadly threats Afghan allies face drove the quick action. Erik Wasson has more.

Policing Changes Stalls C-J-S Spending Bill: House Democrats have delayed a vote on a bill to fund the Department of Justice amid complaints by police unions over requirements for policy changes including ending chokeholds. The House’s fiscal 2022 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill is no longer set for a floor vote this week due to the recent complaints by police unions, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee, told Bloomberg Government yesterday. Read more from Jack Fitzpatrick.

Infrastructure Plan Spurs Climate Hope: The infrastructure deal struck this week is full of electric vehicle and climate investments—evidence that both parties are embracing clean energy spending once considered a pipe dream. The plan includes $7.5 billion that is the first-ever national investment for electric vehicle charging stations. The $73 billion to upgrade U.S. electricity infrastructure and $39 billion for public transit are the largest investments in those areas to date, according to the Biden administration. The $550 billion plan signals hope by environmentalists that such bipartisanship will extend to significant actions on climate beyond the confines of infrastructure bills or other large spending packages. Read more from Dean Scott.

N.Y.-to-Alabama Route Edges Toward Finish in Infrastructure Deal: A 3,000-mile highway system in the works since the 1960s would be one step closer to completion under the Senate bipartisan infrastructure deal. The agreement would dedicate $1.25 billion to the Appalachian Development Highway System. Completion of the corridor has been a priority for several lawmakers who have been involved in the infrastructure negotiations or are likely to serve as key votes, including West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin (D) and Shelley Moore Capito (R). Read more from Nicole Sadek.

Republicans Call On SCOTUS to Topple Roe: A cascade of Republicans called on the U.S. Supreme Court to roll back constitutional abortion protections, potentially by overruling the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized the procedure nationwide. In a brief filed yesterday, 228 Republican members of Congress called on the court to uphold Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy—and overturn Roe if necessary. Only three Senate Republicans chose not to joint the brief. Read more from Greg Stohr.

Bipartisan Bill Would Add Seats to District Courts: The federal judiciary would get its requested 77 new district court seats under a bipartisan Senate bill reintroduced yesterday. The updated measure reflects the latest request from the judiciary and would make the seats available after the next two presidential elections. Under the bill, 39 new seats would be available for the president to fill in 2025 and 38 in 2029. It’s sponsored by Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.). Madison Alder has more.

  • Separately, judiciary workers would get the same antidiscrimination rights and whistleblower protections as other federal employees under legislation proposed yesterday. The House and Senate bills follow the judiciary’s own #MeToo-era reckoning in which several judges were accused of workplace harassment, Alder reports.

Former Senator Carl Levin Dies at 87: Carl Levin, the former U.S. senator from Michigan who over a 36-year career became a dominant figure on the Armed Services Committee and a fierce champion of his state’s automobile industry, has died, his family said in a statement. He was 87. A statement released late yesterday by Levin’s family and the Levin Center at the Wayne State University Law School did not list a cause of death. Read more from John Harney and Roxana Tiron.

Around the Administration

Today’s Agenda: Biden meets with governors from states affected by wildfires to discuss prevention and response this morning. This afternoon, the president will host Cuban-American leaders to discuss recent demonstrations in Cuba and the administration’s response.

Biden Says Immigration Should Be in Budget Reconciliation Measure: Biden said yesterday a meeting with lawmakers about DACA went very well and immigration should be included in Democrats’ broad budget reconciliation measure, Megan Howard and Jenny Leonard report. “I think we should include in the reconciliation bill the immigration proposal,” Biden told reporters.

  • Biden and top Democrats are expected to meet at the White House today to discuss efforts to pass major voting rights legislation, according to the New York Times, citing two congressional aides familiar with the plans, Se Young Lee reports. Biden’s meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) comes at a crucial moment, as activists are pushing the president to use his power and Democrats’ control of Congress to protect voting rights while they have the chance.

Biden’s Power Over Shots Hits a Wall: Biden made his best effort to juice vaccinations yesterday, as the delta variant of coronavirus sweeps the U.S., ordering federal employees to get shots or face strict public health precautions and offering ordinary American holdouts $100 for a jab. But his latest announcement showed the limit of his powers, and what happens next in the pandemic is largely out of the president’s hands. About a month and a half after Biden celebrated gaining “the upper hand”against Covid-19, his administration once again is recommending Americans wear masks indoors in areas where there’s substantial spread of coronavirus — whether they’re vaccinated or not. Read more from Jenny Leonard and Skylar Woodhouse.

  • Biden is asking the Pentagon to determine how and when to require that all U.S. troops receive the Covid-19 vaccine as Defense Department leaders have been wary of mandating the shot so far. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin would consider requiring the vaccine before full FDA approval, Biden told reporters yesterday. Defense Department personnel will be asked to share their vaccination status, said Pentagon deputy press secretary Jamal Brown. Read more from Roxana Tiron and Shira Stein.

Treasury to Start Special Measures to Avoid Breaching Debt Limit: The Treasury Department is set to start dipping into its toolkit to avoid breaching the U.S. debt limit, as Congress still lacks a clear plan for averting default later this year. At noon today, the Treasury will use the first of its so-called “extraordinary measures”: suspending sales of securities that help states and municipalities invest bond proceeds, according to a letter Secretary Janet Yellen sent to Congress last week. The debt ceiling — which has been on hold for two years and represents the total amount lawmakers permit the government to borrow — will be reinstated on Sunday. Read more from Katia Dmitrieva.

Afghan Evacuations Begin as First Flight Lands: The Biden administration’s first evacuation flight for Afghans who aided American and other coalition forces has arrived in the U.S., as the administration steps up efforts to relocate interpreters, other military assistants and their families ahead of a final troop withdrawal. The plane, carrying more than 200 people, landed at Fort Lee in Virginia, where passengers were to undergo health screenings and further processing of their Special Immigrant Visas. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

U.S., Philippines Keep Key Military Deal: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte restored a key military deal with the U.S., boosting Biden’s efforts to counter China and strengthen ties with allies in the Asia-Pacific. Duterte retracted last year’s termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said at a joint briefing with Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin today. The two nations can continue military exercises following the decision, Austin said. Read more from Andreo Calonzo.

U.S. Concerned on Intimidation of Foreign Journalists in China: The U.S. is deeply concerned with the increasingly harsh surveillance, harassment, and intimidation of U.S. and other foreign journalists in China, Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement, Melissa Cheok reports. Price called on China to act as “a responsible nation hoping to welcome foreign media and the world for the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

Biden Picks Kaplan to Fill Singapore Ambassador Post: Biden has selected tech entrepreneur Jonathan Kaplan to be the next U.S. ambassador to Singapore, planning to fill a position in the critical Pacific trade hub that hasn’t had a formal U.S. ambassador since the end of the Obama administration in early 2017. Read more from Derek Wallbank.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com