How White House Went From Denying Could Act on Eviction Moratorium to Backing New One

Millions of renters have been protected from losing their homes, but only after a quick turnaround from the Biden administration, which maintained for weeks leading up to the expiration of an eviction moratorium that it couldn't legally act to extend the coronavirus pandemic measure.

The White House is describing the sudden about-face as the result of evolving negotiations and legal consultations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as they tried to find a "legal pathway forward."

"The White House was engaged directly with the CDC, at the direction of the president, to ask them to look into what legal options, if any, existed," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday. "That process was underway for a couple of days, and the announcement yesterday was a reflection of exactly that."

The CDC unveiled its new targeted eviction moratorium Monday evening, arguing evictions for failure to pay rent could be detrimental to public health measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, which has seen a recent surge in cases through the spread of a more contagious variant of the novel coronavirus.

COVID-19 has killed more than 611,000 people in the United States.

"The emergence of the Delta variant has led to a rapid acceleration of community transmission in the United States, putting more Americans at increased risk, especially if they are unvaccinated," CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. "This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where COVID-19 spreads."

But for days before announcing the new moratorium, the White House stood firmly by its view that it couldn't legally extend the expiring ban.

The White House repeatedly pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from June that allowed the moratorium to run through Saturday to argue that the CDC couldn't extend the ban again and that Congress had to act.

U.S. House negotiations to extend the eviction ban through December or October collapsed last week, and lawmakers left for the August recess.

The CDC's previous moratorium also used health concerns because of COVID-19 as justification but it was a blanket eviction ban that applied to the whole country.

Psaki said the workaround—going with a new narrower eviction ban—made the CDC more comfortable with the legality of moving forward.

"What was announced yesterday was not an extension of the existing moratorium," Psaki said. "It is a more limited moratorium, that is going to be impacting and helping areas that were hardest hit by COVID—different than the last moratorium."

About 33 percent of the potentially affected renters live in states or cities that have adopted their own moratoriums that would have protected them even without a federal ban. Biden called on others to adopt similar measures because of Congress' inability to move forward on extending the federal moratorium.

The White House also has been pushing states to speed up distribution of the billions in federal dollars dedicated to renter and landlord relief that Congress approved in a COVID-19 relief package earlier this year. Officials estimate about $3 billion of the more than $46 billion has been spent.

White House reverses course on eviction ban
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unveiled its targeted eviction moratorium Monday evening after negotiations with the Biden administration. President Joe Biden speaks about COVID vaccinations and his administration's progress toward fighting the pandemic in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Jim WATSON / AFP/Getty Images