The White House asserted on Monday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not have the legal authority to issue another eviction ban after Democratic leaders urged the Biden administration to take unilateral action.
In a statement, White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiOvernight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Biden's winter COVID-19 strategy Biden lays out multi-pronged plan to deal with evolving pandemic White House defends travel ban on African countries MORE said that CDC officials “have been unable to find legal authority for a new, targeted eviction moratorium” after the administration floated a one-month emergency extension.
“Our team is redoubling efforts to identify all available legal authorities to provide necessary protections,” Psaki said.
“In the meantime, the President will continue to do everything in his power to help renters from eviction.”
Biden has faced mounting pressure over the weekend from Democratic lawmakers, including Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight On The Money — Congress races to keep the lights on House sets up Senate shutdown showdown MORE (D-Calif.), to renew the CDC’s eviction ban after failing to marshal enough support behind a bill to do so Friday.
Biden asked lawmakers last week to extend the CDC’s ban, two days before it expired on July 31 and nearly a month after the Supreme Court warned that the agency would need congressional support to extend the moratorium again. Even so, House Democrats were unable to rise to Biden's last-ditch request after roughly 20 moderates objected to a bill to extend the ban, breaking for recess Friday without even taking a vote.
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have called on Biden for days to issue another extension despite the court's ruling.
But Gene Sperling, Biden's economic recovery czar, said that while Biden asked the CDC if it had the power to ban evictions in areas with particularly high COVID-19 transmission rates, the agency was hemmed in by the court's decision.
"Even though the eviction moratorium was supposed to end on the 31st, even though the CDC had said it was their last extension," Sperling said, "there was still a desire, a passion by this president to go back and say, 'Are we sure? Are we sure?' And he is still asking that question."
Sperling sidestepped questions about whether Biden should have led congressional Democrats to find a long-term fix in the month between the Supreme Court's decision and the ban's expiration. He also refused to blame lawmakers for the design of a rental aid program that has only distributed a fraction of the $46 billion meant to stave off evictions.
"We as a country have never had a national infrastructure or national policy for preventing avoidable evictions," Sperling said. "We think what Congress did was historic, and we think it has the potential to help enormously."
Sperling also indicated that concerns about whether the Supreme Court could strike down the administration’s broader use of public health authorities factored into the decision not to fight the issue at the high court.
“You always have to worry about whether you do something that could create harm. That’s a factor to think about. Is it an overwhelming factor? I can’t tell you,” Sperling said, later declining to offer further specifics.
Psaki also later insisted that Biden has “not given up the option of legal action” but reiterated that he will not take any step if he believes he does not have the legal authority to do so.
“We are using every tool we can,” she said.
Morgan Chalfant contributed to this piece which was updated at 4:13 p.m.