Biden's new eviction ban.

Plus, a question about Tangle.
Isaac Saul Aug 5, 2021
️I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 11 minutes.

We’re covering the Biden administration’s new eviction ban. Also, a reader from Indianpolis asks how I keep my head on straight.

Photo: Joe Piette / Flickr

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Quick hits.

  1. U.S. Jobless claims remained around double the pre-pandemic average, falling only slightly from last week. (Read the story)
  2. At least ten people were killed after a van carrying migrants crashed near Encino, Texas. (Read the story)
  3. A Cobb County, Georgia man was accused of stabbing a Pentagon police officer to death on Tuesday. (Read the story)
  4. Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya arrived safely in Poland yesterday after she resisted an attempt by her Olympic team officials to send her home to Belarus, where she feared punishment for criticizing her country’s coaches. (Read the story)
  5. Thousands are evacuating heavily wooded areas just north of Sacramento as wildfires continue to ravage the West coast. (Read the story)

What D.C. is talking about.

The eviction moratorium (again). On Monday, I wrote about Congress allowing the national eviction moratorium to expire. Approximately 6.5 million households are behind on their rent this month, and the 11-month old moratorium was designed to keep as many of them from being evicted as possible (for context, in 2016, an estimated 2.4 million eviction cases were filed and 900,000 were executed). The moratorium was crafted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which controversially flexed its legal authority in order to stem the spread of Covid-19. The ban applied to individual renters making $99,000 or less a year and couples making $198,000 or less a year. Renters also needed to meet other qualifications, like reduced working hours because of the pandemic, in order to qualify.

Before the ban expired, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision not to end the moratorium. But with his deciding vote, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote an explanation for his vote, saying the CDC had overstepped its legal authority and he was only allowing the ban to stay in place because he wanted an orderly end to its eviction policy and that expiration was approaching quickly.

Over the weekend, as the moratorium expired, Congress was calling on the Biden administration to act, while the Biden administration was pointing back at state legislatures or Congress to act, saying it had no more legal authority to extend the ban. Ultimately, the Biden administration and the CDC worked together to extend the moratorium until Oct. 3. But this time, instead of applying it to the entire country, the CDC applied the moratorium to areas with high rates of Covid-19 infection, which — thanks to the new Delta variant — some experts estimate will apply to 80 percent of the counties and 90 percent of renters in the United States. But the administration also warned they did not know how long it would last.

“The bulk of the constitutional scholars say it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster,” Biden conceded at a press conference on Tuesday. Democratic members of Congress say the new ban will give states more time to distribute rental relief to renters and landlords, while the CDC has said it will also help stop the spread of the Delta variant. It was met with an immediate legal challenge from the Alabama Association of Realtors, who challenged the previous moratorium as well.

Below, we’ll take another look at the moratorium, with views from the left and right on Biden’s latest ban. Again: you can read our previous coverage from Monday here.


What the left is saying.

The left has said Biden’s heart is in the right place, but is critical of congressional Democrats and Biden for allowing it to expire without passing new legislation.

“It’s not a good sign for the president when he admits that he’s about to lose in the courts,” Matt Ford said in The New Republic. “It’s even worse when what he’s doing is all that stands between Americans and a national eviction crisis… Kavanaugh drew some criticism for this maneuver from conservative and libertarian legal figures, who are increasingly comfortable criticizing the moratorium. National Review’s Andrew McCarthy denounced Kavanaugh for a ‘maddening, though mercifully brief, opinion’ that amounted to a ‘craven nod to the lawless eviction moratorium.’ Had Kavanaugh voted the way that National Review wanted, of course, hundreds of thousands of families would have been left homeless without warning or recourse right before the Delta variant surge slammed into the country.

“In short, the Supreme Court effectively gave Biden and Congress just over one month to fix the disbursement of rental assistance funds and/or re-impose the moratorium through new legislation,” Ford wrote. “They did neither. By most accounts, states and counties have been sluggish at best to set up programs to disburse billions in funds from federal pandemic-relief coffers. The White House, for its part, did not put pressure on Congress until right before the moratorium expired and right before the House was set to leave town for its annual August recess… But focusing on the Supreme Court also lets Democrats off the hook. Congress and the White House had just over a month to pass a new law and put the moratorium on more stable legal footing and squandered it. Now renters are in an even more precarious place than before, and the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc is poised to make its first major move to curb federal public-health powers.”

In Vox, Ian Millhiser said the lapsed moratorium was “the Supreme Court’s fault” for continuing to reduce the power federal agencies have to enact an administration’s agenda.

“Specifically, federal law permits the CDC to ‘make and enforce such regulations as in [its] judgment are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases.’ In issuing this moratorium, the CDC determined that a temporary pause on many evictions was necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19 because people who lose their homes are likely to either move in with friends and family or wind up in shelters, where they could catch the coronavirus or spread it to others,” Millhiser wrote. “The plaintiffs in Alabama Association of Realtors argued that the federal law giving the CDC broad authority to prevent the spread of communicable diseases is too broad — so broad that it raises ‘serious constitutional concerns.’

“And a majority of the Court agreed with them that the CDC should not have this power,” he said. “Four justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett — voted to immediately suspend the eviction moratorium. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, meanwhile, voted to give renters a very temporary reprieve. All of which is a long way of saying that Congress bears some blame for the expiration of the moratorium… But the lion’s share of the blame belongs to the Supreme Court. The reason why the Biden administration cannot extend the moratorium by invoking the CDC’s statutory authority is that the Court was quite clear that it would not permit such an extension.”

The Washington Post editorial board said there is little doubt about the need for aid, “but the CDC’s action was almost certainly illegal.”

“Under pressure from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and progressive Democrats, President Biden and the CDC may have muted accusations that they failed to stick up for desperate renters,” the board wrote. “The administration also may succeed in giving many Americans a short reprieve from eviction. But perhaps not as long as advertised — because courts may strike it down before October — and at the expense of the rule of law… The law the CDC relies on to justify its unilateral eviction ban authorizes the agency to impose measures such as ‘inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination, and destruction of animals,’ not to freeze the rental housing market month after month in nearly the entire country. Many landlords are themselves desperate, on the hook to keep up their properties, pay taxes and service loans whether their tenants pay their rent [or not].

“Justice Kavanaugh in June clearly signaled willingness to disregard their plight — and the law’s limitations — for another few weeks, not months,” the board added. “It is not the Biden administration’s fault that states have been slow to get federal rental aid to needy Americans. But the administration’s only reasonable options were to push states to get their acts together and to request that Congress give the CDC the authority it needed to reimpose an eviction ban.”


What the right is saying.

The right criticized the ban, calling it unconstitutional, and the press hypocritical for not criticizing Biden more.

The New York Post editorial board said “America is now being ruled not by President Joe Biden but a small, radical minority that couldn’t care less about the US Constitution.”

“Biden made that clear when he caved to the Squad on Tuesday and pushed his Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ban evictions once again — knowing full well he was likely breaking the law and violating his oath of office,” the board wrote. “The ban is being pitched as narrower than one that expired Saturday, covering ‘only’ 80 percent of US counties (home to 90 percent of the population) and lasting ‘only’ 60 days. But the CDC said it might add on more counties, and the deadline could be renewed. That takes chutzpah: In June, the Supreme Court signaled that congressional legislation would be needed to extend the ban, which had been in place since August 2020, beyond July. Congress, meanwhile, clearly opted to let it expire: House Democrats couldn’t muster enough votes last week to extend it, and it faced an even tougher battle in the Senate.

“Meanwhile, the era of lockdowns is past; Americans can, and should, be working — and paying rent, as Betsy McCaughey notes nearby,” the editors added. “The ban, says Bob Pinnegar, head of the National Apartment Association, ‘forces housing providers to deliver a costly service without compensation and saddles renters with insurmountable debt.’ Biden doesn’t care. Radicals like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) staged a bit of political theater by sleeping overnight on the Capitol steps, and Team Biden folded like a cheap suit.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board pointed to hypocritical responses to presidential lawlessness.

“When Donald Trump took action that exceeded his authority, all of Washington erupted in protest,” they wrote. “Yet that is exactly what President Biden did Tuesday, when his Administration reissued a nationwide eviction moratorium after the White House had argued at length that it lacked legal authority to do so. The Beltway response? Crickets… Many Presidents have overstepped their authority, but this is premeditated lawlessness,” the board said. “The government has been slow to distribute pandemic relief funds to renters. Now to buy time and silence Democratic critics, Mr. Biden has signed off on an order that he admits he can’t defend in good faith.

“The White House spent days telling Democrats that Mr. Biden couldn’t renew the order. ‘The President has not only kicked the tires; he has double, triple, quadruple checked,’ a senior aide said Monday. ‘He has asked the CDC to look at whether you could even do targeted eviction moratorium—that just went to the counties that have higher rates—and they, as well, have been unable to find the legal authority.’ A day later Mr. Biden did it anyway, without so much as a legal fig leaf. The CDC’s new moratorium applies to all areas with ‘substantial or high levels of community transmission.’ That’s 83% of counties, per the CDC’s own data… This is disdain for the rule of law. Where is Attorney General Merrick Garland? Where are the news stories about White House lawyers trying to dissuade the President?

In The National Review, Philip Klein said “White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is in a bit of a bind.”

“After communicating that there was no legal justification for extending the evictions moratorium through the CDC, President Biden violated his oath of office and did so anyway,” Klein wrote. “So in today’s press briefing Psaki has been tasked with explaining the rapid reversal. It has not gone well. Psaki claimed that the decision was signed off on by the CDC’s lawyers as well as the White House Counsel’s office. She said that Biden was ‘old school,’ and that ‘the president would not have supported moving forward with any action where he didn’t feel there was legal standing and legal support.’

“The way she tried to square the circle was to argue that the new order is different from the one the Supreme Court declared illegal in June,” Klein wrote. “The problem is, Gene Sperling, Biden’s senior adviser, said at the press briefing just Monday, with Psaki at his side, that the CDC had determined that even a more limited moratorium could not be accomplished legally. For Psaki’s story to hold, during the quintuple check, CDC lawyers would have had to unearth a magic legal authority that escaped them during the single, double, triple, and quadruple check. But the legal justification that the CDC used — essentially, taking action in the midst of a pandemic to slow the spread — was the same one that had been used previously, and that had been rejected by the Supreme Court.”


My take.

This is a bad look for just about everyone involved except the Supreme Court.

First, Congress has utterly failed. Kudos to representatives like Cori Bush who spent the night sleeping on the Capitol steps, drove a media frenzy over the issue and stood toe-to-toe with the Biden administration until they blinked. I don’t think “The Squad” is at all deserving of derision — they had a cause they believed in and they went after their own team in order to force an outcome they wanted and felt their constituents needed. That’s the kind of thing that should be celebrated regardless of whether you agree with them.

But what about their colleagues? What about Nancy Pelosi or Democratic leadership in the Senate? Did they really need an engraved invitation from President Biden to do their jobs and draft legislation to address an eviction moratorium they knew was going to lapse a month ago? Is that what it has come to? The bizarre spectacle of people blaming the Biden administration for not telling Congress to actually legislate is something I’ll never understand.

Besides, there’s plenty of other stuff to hit Biden for. His team clearly blew this in every conceivable way. Yes, they made it an issue with 48 hours to go, expending close to zero political capital on a crisis everyone seemed to know was coming. But they also announced any action they could take would be illegal, then promptly took that illegal action and sent out a press team to try to defend it. I feel for Jen Psaki, who certainly isn’t going to stand at the podium and tell everyone her boss just did something he said would be illegal two days before — but that’s exactly the position the Biden administration has put her in.

I give Biden, Rep. Bush and “The Squad” points for fighting for low-income Americans who are at risk of eviction and deserve our attention, empathy and help. But goodness, they couldn’t have handled this all in a more ham-handed way if they had tried.

As for the Supreme Court: it did the right thing. Justice Kavanaugh simultaneously conceded the legal authority wasn’t there but that it would also be a huge mess if he ended the moratorium a month ago. He basically gave Congress and Biden a get-out-of-jail free card, crossed his ideological allies on the court, and extended the lifeline to the renters in need. Then Congress and Biden squandered the month of runway the court afforded them.

The cold truth is that an 11-month eviction ban and trillions of dollars of financial aid is a truly remarkable package of relief — and one that should be celebrated. But it can’t go on forever. I hope, for the sake of the Americans falling on hard times, this latest ban buys a few more weeks for states to get their acts together and get the billions of dollars of rent relief sitting idle out the door. But I also hope the Supreme Court makes it clear that a president (and the CDC) can’t simply declare that millions of Americans don’t have to pay rent for a year without any legislative solution or legal standing. That’s not a how a functioning government works.


Your questions, answered.

Q: How do you ground yourself and gut check yourself when it comes to trying to provide all sides? Listening to far right and far left podcasts has to have an effect on you as you report and try to provide all sides.

— Jacob, Indianapolis, Indiana

Tangle: In a lot of ways, I actually think going to the “fringes” can be grounding. A good example of that happened a few months ago, when I wrote about police reform. A lot of readers were infuriated that I had not included police abolition as a potential solution, and urged me to examine the idea more closely. Many Americans would consider abolishing the police a fringe and radical idea, or “far-left,” but I found that immersing myself in the details — interviewing proponents, going through reader feedback, writing a whole other newsletter about it — helped me realize how many people out there subscribed to the view and made reasonable cases for it.

In that sense, something that was thought of as far-left or fringe became more understandable and, in a lot of ways, easier for me to see the merit in. This happens a lot for me. It’s easy to dismiss fringe far-right podcasts when you only hear 30-second clips from them on Twitter, but if you actually go and listen to full episodes or arguments you can at least track the line of thinking — however thoughtful or ill-conceived it may be.

So, for me, the gut check is really making sure I’m not just dismissing ideas that are considered fringe in an effort to be moderate, centrist, etc. That’s not my goal. As I said on the Instagram livestream on Sunday, one of the things I always do before I press send is remind myself “this is going to be on the internet forever. Are you sure you want to say this?” Usually, that’s the only gut check I need!

If you want to ask a question to be answered in the newsletter, you can simply reply to this email and write in. It goes straight to my inbox. You can also fill out this form.


A story that matters.

Yesterday, Facebook blocked a team of New York University researchers studying political ads and Covid-19 misinformation from using its platform. Critics say the decision is the latest attempt by the company to shield itself from critical press coverage. Last year, the team built a tool that collects data about political ads you see on Facebook. 16,000 people installed the tool, which then allowed users to share data with the team on why they were shown certain ads. Facebook said the project was “using unauthorized means to access and collect data from Facebook, in violation of our terms of service.” NPR has the story here.


Numbers.

  • 67%. The percentage of voters who blame unvaccinated Americans for the latest increase in Covid-19 cases.
  • 70%. The percentage of voters who say they are vaccinated, including 80% of Democrats, 64% of independents and 63% of Republicans.
  • 52%. The percentage of voters who say they somewhat or strongly approve of the job Joe Biden is doing as president.
  • 6,707. The number of Americans who renounced their citizenship in favor of a foreign country in 2020, an all-time high.
  • 122.8 million. The number of households in the United States, as of 2019.
  • 36%. The percentage of those households that were renters, as of 2019.

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Have a nice day.

Here’s a feel-good eviction story: On Monday, Dasha Kelly was facing eviction and wasn’t sure how she was going to pay her rent. But thanks to strangers, $225,505 was raised for her and her three daughters. The family was featured on Monday in a CNN story about the eviction moratorium. The 32-year-old professional card dealer had lost her job at a Casino after Covid-19 lockdowns. Out of options, Kelly started a GoFundMe page hoping to raise $2,000 to pay back the rent she owed. Instead, 2,700 donors contributed more than $170,000 for her in 24 hours. As of this writing, the total was $225,505. (CNN)

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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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