Earlier this month, Cori Bush slept on the steps of the Capitol in order to convince the Biden administration to extend the federal eviction moratorium. The Missouri representative’s bold strategy worked. She got the White House to act, temporarily saving millions of Americans from the threat of losing shelter during a pandemic.
Now, with the Supreme Court decision to block the moratorium, she’s going to be just as bold. “We already know who is going to bear the brunt of this disastrous decision—Black and brown communities, and especially Black women,” Bush said after the ruling was released Thursday evening. “We didn’t sleep on those steps just to give up now. Congress must act immediately to prevent mass evictions and I am exploring every possible option.”
The high court’s ruling upended a version of the ban on evictions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued on August 3, shortly after a previous moratorium expired amid wrangling between the administration and congressional leaders over how to extend it.
While others debated over who should take responsibility for extending the moratorium as it expired in late July, Bush demanded action. She brought a sense of urgency to the fight, recalling her own experience with evictions. And she won headline-grabbing support from Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In so doing, Bush gave voice to a national outcry over the prospect that as many as 3.6 million households could face eviction orders within two months. They are among the 11 million Americans who have fallen behind on rent payments during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to an analysis of US Census Bureau data by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
Bush lit a fire under the Biden administration, and the White House has continued to take steps to make it easier for renters to work with landlords to get emergency rental assistance. But the Supreme Court ruling has renewed the crisis.
The court’s conservative majority ruled that the executive branch didn’t have the authority to extend the moratorium. “Congress was on notice that a further extension would almost surely require new legislation, yet it failed to act in the several weeks leading up to the moratorium’s expiration,” argued the decision. “If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it.”
Liberal justices dissented, with Justice Stephen Breyer explaining that, with “the health of millions” at stake, the CDC acted properly to assure that vulnerable Americans are not thrown into more precarious circumstances in the midst of a surging pandemic. “COVID-19 transmission rates have spiked in recent weeks, reaching levels that the CDC puts as high as last winter: 150,000 new cases per day,” Breyer wrote, in an argument for “considered decision making” on the issue.
Within minutes of the court’s ruling against Biden’s Emergency Eviction Moratorium, Bush announced, “Tonight, the Supreme Court failed to protect the 11 million households across our country from violent eviction in the middle of a deadly global pandemic. We are in an unprecedented and ongoing crisis that demands compassionate solutions that center the needs of the people and communities most in need of our help. We need to give our communities time to heal from this devastating pandemic.”
But Bush did not merely decry the court ruling.
She presented “immediate options” to avert an eviction crisis. They include proposals for the House to reconvene for an emergency vote on HR 4791, a bill, introduced by House Financial Services Committee chair Maxine Waters, to extend the moratorium through December 31, as well as a plan to have the House amend the Public Health Service Act to provide the Department of Health and Human Services with the legal authority to mandate that evictions stop until the pandemic is officially over.
On the phone with fellow members, Bush made a blunt pitch for them “to reflect on the humanity of every single one of their unhoused, or soon to be unhoused, neighbors, and support a legislative solution to this eviction crisis.”
Bush knows she’s got a fight ahead of her. She understands that pushing for congressional action is just one piece of the puzzle—especially considering the caution of the narrow Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. But her outspoken advocacy keeps that fire lit under the Biden administration, and it raises the prospect that congressional Democrats might use the ongoing budget reconciliation process to strengthen the hand of the CDC and other agencies when it comes to preventing evictions.