President Joe Biden’s administration announced Tuesday a partial moratorium on evictions following a five-day protest outside the U.S. Capitol led by Missouri Rep. Cori Bush and promises of nationwide protests by Black religious leaders.
Bush, a freshman Democratic congresswoman from St. Louis, had been leading a protest outside the Capitol since Friday evening, calling for reinstatement of the national moratorium on evictions that expired on Saturday.
Bush and colleagues slept outside the Capitol each night in an effort to pressure Biden’s administration to revive the moratorium — despite a June Supreme Court ruling — and to compel House leadership to cancel the August recess to pass a legislative fix.
“Change has to happen for us to leave,” Bush said Tuesday when asked how long she planned to keep up her protest. “If I was able to stay in Ferguson on the ground for over 400 days now, this right here, I can do this. We can do this together because I’m not doing it by myself,” said Bush, who led protests in Missouri following the 2014 police shooting death of Michael Brown.
Hours later, Biden confirmed that the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention would announce a new plan Tuesday evening. The new order applies to counties experiencing substantial and high risk of COVID-19 transmission. It will last until October 3.
Bush’s home state of Missouri has been one of the states most adversely affected by the delta variant in recent weeks.
“Activists are in Congress, so expect for things to be different than maybe what people are used to,” Bush said Tuesday evening as she and allies celebrated the news. Bush said she will return home to St. Louis to help constituents access money through the Emergency Rental Assistance program now that a new eviction moratorium is in place.
But the targeted moratorium is still likely to face legal challenges, Biden noted.
“Any call for moratorium based on the Supreme Court decision is likely to face obstacles,” Biden said, warning that he was not certain that the order would pass constitutional muster.
On Tuesday, a parade of lawmakers arrived to greet Bush and in some cases promise to join her sleeping outside in the nights to come. The situation highlighted the growing tension between the White House and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party on a host of issues, which remains even following Biden’s announcement.
New York Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones criticized Biden’s choice of words in questioning the constitutionality of his own administration’s order, which could be revisited in a future court case.
“You can rest assured that every litigator now about to challenge this new moratorium will cite directly to the president’s words. That is not the behavior, that is not the commentary of someone who’s actually trying to help people,” Jones said. “And it’s really frustrating to hear that kind of language come from the president of the United States.”
But even if the order is ultimately struck down, Biden’s announcement is a major victory for Bush, who led the campaign to pressure the White House on the issue. An activist handed Bush a bouquet of flowers to thank her and her fellow Democrats heaped praise on her for her leadership.
“I think that Cori Bush has helped protect millions of families across this country and she’s reminded every single person who stands up and fights that getting in these fights is worthwhile,” said Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Jones noted that the conclusion of the protest comes during the anniversary week of Bush’s surprise victory in the 2020 Democratic primary against 20-year incumbent Rep. William Lacy Clay, a coincidence noted by New York Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones.
“Can there be any doubt that she’s been saving lives just like she said she would?” Jones said.
Bush’s protest had attracted national support in the lead-up to Biden’s announcement. Rev. Jesse Jackson and other ministers from around the country joined Bush on the Capitol steps Tuesday to express their support for the demonstration.
Bishop James Dixon, the president of the Houston chapter of the NAACP, promised that pastors would be leading similar protests around the country when they returned home.
“We’re going to go back to our congregations and through our ministries stand in solidarity with you and we will sleep on the streets in cities around the nation to make this message clear,” Dixon said.
“We cannot afford to lose one American to homelessness, especially in a time of this pandemic. It’s the most inhumane policy we can have, punishing this most vulnerable. And the people doing it are sleeping in mansions on king-sized beds and mattresses,” Dixon said.
The expiration of the moratorium could have led to hundreds of evictions in Kansas City and St. Louis. There have been more than 4,100 eviction cases filed in Jackson County alone since September of last year.
Bush, a single mother who was homeless for a period during the early 2000s, said she made the decision to sleep outside the Capitol an hour before she started her protest on Friday.
She has been outside the Capitol each night except for Monday when New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and California Democratic Rep. Jimmy Gomez served as her substitutes.
“It was Cori Bush who did not give up. And I believe it’s because of her own lived experiences of being evicted on by herself, sleeping in her car with her with her babies, that motivated her to not give up, not to go home, and she might have motivated the rest of us to come back,” Gomez said Tuesday evening.
The White House announced Monday that it was examining whether there was a legal basis for reinstating the order. It also called on landlords to hold off on evictions and instead seek funds through the Emergency Rental Assistance program. Billions distributed to states and cities to prevent evictions remain unspent.
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Bush Monday, a sign of the pressure the protest put on Biden’s administration.
Bush said she wanted Harris to look in her eyes to see “what pain looks like because that is not far from me. That is not far from me at all, the days that I’ve been out in the park, on the street moving the vehicle around the city of St Louis hoping that the police didn’t stop because we were sitting in the car.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that the efforts by Bush and other lawmakers had an impact on the president’s decision to move forward with a new moratorium, but she also stressed that Biden first called for the extension of the original moratorium in January and shared a common goal with the lawmakers.
“I don’t think anyone could hear Congresswoman Bush’s own personal story and experience and see her advocacy and her passion and not be moved by that. I know a number of members of Congress were moved by that as well,” Psaki said.
This story has been updated.
The Star’s Cortlynn Stark contributed to this report.