House Democrat accuses White House of ‘empathy deficit’ on evictions

Biden believes the new eviction moratorium lacks 'constitutional muster'

New York Democrat Rep. Mondaire Jones accused President Biden of having an "empathy deficit" Tuesday, rebuking the president’s questioning tone on extending a nationwide eviction moratorium.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines that will temporarily ban evictions in high transmission areas – a move Biden said he believes lacks "constitutional muster."

Biden said he had asked "constitutional scholars" to evaluate his legal authority to extend an eviction moratorium. 

"The bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it's not likely to pass constitutional muster," Biden said ahead of the CDC’s announcement.

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But the president said he was advised the 60-day moratorium on evictions recommended by the CDC was "worth the effort." 

"It is odd I think to raise issues about the constitutionality of your own executive action shortly before making that executive action. And this is what I mean when I talk about an empathy deficit," Mondaire told reporters following the president’s comments. 

"You can rest assured that every litigator now about to challenge this moratorium will cite directly to the president’s words," he continued. "That is not the commentary of someone who is actually trying to help people."

The White House previously alleged the president lacked the legal authority to prevent the eviction moratorium from expiring last weekend – a move that sparked intense pressure from progressives in his party.

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Democratic lawmakers, led by Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., championed their efforts in lobbying the White House to extend a ban on evictions for the 11 million Americans who are behind on rent following the coronavirus pandemic.

"It will be a win for people who for such a long time…felt like nobody listens," Bush said, reflecting on her own time of living out of her car.

Bush, who spent several nights camping at the Capitol in protest, was embraced by lawmakers after becoming emotional during the press conference.

The new guidance from the CDC would protect roughly 90 percent of Americans in high transmission areas from eviction. 

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Democratic lawmakers acknowledge the moratorium was just a launching point and said more work needs to be done on the ground to ensure renters and landlords get access to federal funds to help with rental assistance.

"Once we get a moratorium extension in place, we need governors and principalities to get emergency rental assistance funds out," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y., told reporters. "That is what the point of this moratorium is. It is to buy time."