Biden White House Extends Eviction Protections In Most Places : The NPR Politics Podcast Gene Sperling oversees the White House's rollout of COVID relief. On Monday, he told reporters that President Biden had "quadruple-checked" whether he had the legal grounds to extend the eviction moratorium unilaterally but said ultimately the president's hands were tied by a Supreme Court ruling that blocked the administration from extending its past moratorium beyond the end of July. Yesterday, the administration extended the renter protections anyway. And, the U.S. continues the hard task of global vaccine distribution.

This episode: White House correspondent Scott Detrow, White House correspondent Tamara Keith, and congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell.

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Biden "Quadruple-Checked" That He Couldn't Stop Evictions. Then He Did.

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ROSSIO: Hi, this is Rossio (ph), and I'm in Tampa, Fla. Today is my 50th birthday. And I'm in a karaoke lounge with some of my nearest and dearest. This podcast was recorded at...

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Happy birthday. I still have not gotten back to a karaoke lounge, but that was one of my, like, post-COVID aspirations. I forgot to say what time it was. I was so excited about karaoke. It is - it's 2:05 Eastern on Wednesday, August 4.

ROSSIO: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but we'll still be singing the night away. OK.

(Singing) Enjoy...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Singing) Enjoy...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing) Enjoy...

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) ...The show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: (Laughter).

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: So it occurs to me that those people might be more professional karaokers (ph)...

DETROW: I think so.

KEITH: ...Than we are because they were just doing harmony.

DETROW: Yeah.

SNELL: They're not just having a couple of drinks and singing "Since U Been Gone" in a bar.

DETROW: Speaking of reading words, though, that come flash in front of us, I should say who we are and what this is.

KEITH: (Laughter).

DETROW: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I also cover the White House.

SNELL: And I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CORI BUSH: Activists are in Congress, so expect for things to be different than what maybe people are used to.

DETROW: That is Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush speaking last evening after she got some news. She had been protesting the end of evictions protections tied to the pandemic by camping out on the Capitol steps. This is something Bush felt strongly about because, previously in her life, she was homeless. So yesterday, after a lot of pressure from her, from a lot of activists, President Biden said he would renew those protections. That was Bush's goal. Tam, that was a real reversal of what Biden had said just a few days earlier. So what was going on here?

KEITH: Yeah. So the Biden administration, which previously said that they couldn't do this because they didn't have the legal authority, said that they had found a legal authority. And so what is going to happen is this is a narrower, but not that narrow, ban on evictions, an eviction moratorium, in any county in the U.S. that is experiencing high or substantial COVID spread - the idea being that evicting people in the middle of a delta variant surge is a great way to cause more delta variant spread. And so they are trying to put a halt to these evictions. It turns out that covers 90% of the United States. This is not narrow. But it is a new eviction moratorium because the old eviction moratorium expired after the U.S. Supreme Court said it had to.

DETROW: Kelsey, to put this protest by Bush and others in perspective, you made a good point when we were talking about this earlier. You said, you know, the CDC, the White House, a lot of different federal agencies said we'd like to do this, but we don't have the legal authority. Congress did have the legal authority. It did not come up for a vote in the House before this deadline. But then you had all of this pressure from relatively newer members. What's the best way to read the various dynamics going on in Congress around this?

SNELL: Well, they did technically try to bring this up as what's called by a unanimous consent. They tried to just pass it with everybody in agreement, in part because they knew they didn't have enough agreement to pass it the normal way. And they didn't really have the time to pass it the normal way.

There are a lot of things kind of coming into play here. One is that there were a lot of Republicans and Democrats, members of Congress, who want to kind of pressure states to distribute money that was set aside for rent relief. It was supposed to go to these people who are at risk of being evicted to help them pay their current rent and their back rent to avoid eviction even being an issue. And there was also some general feeling that, you know, this money would just eventually get out there, that everybody knew this deadline was coming, but the money would be going out. Problem that we're seeing right now is the money just isn't going out. And people like Cori Bush are saying that action needs to happen.

It's very difficult, in a short amount of time, to move votes in Congress. And I think that she was bumping up against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who is very, very good at counting votes, and sat down, looked at her - you know, her and Democrats and said, you know, I don't have the votes to get this done. And the Senate, where you need 60 votes in order to get anything past a filibuster, they definitely don't have the votes to get this done. So all the pressure shifted back over to the White House and over to the CDC because it's - you know, it's a challenge in the Senate that could possibly have been insurmountable.

DETROW: Well, do any of those dynamics change if and when a federal judge says, nope, you still don't have the authority to do this, given the fact that you repeatedly said you didn't have the authority? That's probably not a surprise. I don't think the legal opinion would be written by that. But it would certainly boil down to something like that. Would those dynamics in Congress still be in place?

SNELL: One would expect that those dynamics are not going to change significantly in favor of getting the eviction ban to be extended, particularly in the Senate, where, again, you would need 60 votes, and that means 10 Republicans if this is to pass. I will say that, you know, there may be some Democrats who were moved here. But I think, overall, the hope is that states will start sending out this money.

KEITH: And I guess we should step back and say that the Supreme Court already said that the eviction moratorium was not legally allowable, sound, couldn't continue past July 30. And Congress did not extend it past July 30. So, like, that dynamic is already in place. But the - it seems like the White House and even Cori Bush acknowledged that there's a decent chance that somebody is going to appeal this. It's going to go back to the Supreme Court or somewhere. And they're going to say, yeah, this is really no different than the last one. The same problem exists. But this would buy time. And that seems to be the very goal - to buy time.

DETROW: Is there any acknowledgment that this is kind of a cynical way to set rules - I mean, to set a new executive rule, kind of conceding you don't really have the full authority? I mean, certainly, you're doing it to keep people in their apartments and houses. But it just feels like a strange set of events to me for the White House to say, we can't do this. We're doing it anyway.

KEITH: Yeah, well, today, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked that question about 20 different ways. And the answer was, well, the president wouldn't have allowed this to move forward if he didn't think there was some legal authority. And the way the president put this last night, when talking to reporters, was that he consulted a lot of constitutional scholars. And most of them thought he couldn't do it, but a few thought they could.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Whether that option will pass constitutional measure with this administration, I can't tell you. I don't know. There are a few scholars who say it will, and others who say it's not likely to. But at a minimum, by the time it gets litigated, it will probably give some additional time while we're getting that $45 billion out to people who are, in fact, behind in the rent and don't have the money.

KEITH: So they're going to go with the answer they like. But it is clear that, really, all they are trying to do is buy enough time for this program to work, for this money to get out, for states to sort of break through the logjam and start distributing money either to renters or directly to landlords so that renters can stay in their homes.

DETROW: All right. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, different topic, global vaccine distribution - how that's going and what specifically the U.S. is doing.

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DETROW: And we are back. Even as delta surges here in the U.S., the White House is still trying to get more vaccines to the rest of the world. Tam, yesterday, you were the first with the news of how many shipments have gone out so far.

KEITH: That's right. It's 110 million. That is a pretty big milestone. And it exceeds the initial goal that the administration had had of distributing 80 million doses. I will say their initial goal had been to distribute 80 million doses by the end of June, and it's now August. So they exceeded in one way. And we're a bit behind in another way, in part because it was a lot harder to share these vaccines with other countries than maybe they initially expected it would be.

DETROW: What specifically made it harder?

KEITH: So many things - first off, these are highly sophisticated medical products that have to be kept super cold. You have to have refrigerators and people able to give the shots. But even more than that, I talked to Gayle Smith, who is the Global COVID Response coordinator at the State Department. And she explained that there were also just a bunch of political, legal, diplomatic hurdles.

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GAYLE SMITH: There are a number of legal and regulatory steps. And in some countries, it's actually required them to take new laws to their parliament so that they can accept these vaccines. So it's a complicated logistical exercise, but I think we've shown it's entirely doable.

KEITH: She was like, yeah, you know, it turns out it's a lot harder than just calling up a country and saying, hey, I've got a plane full of vaccines - you ready? It's a lot more complicated than that.

SNELL: Hey, Tam, isn't delta evidence that this is nowhere near fast enough? I mean, we're seeing this spreading so quickly. And if we're talking about, you know, years to get many places fully vaccinated, won't we just have more variants that need completely different vaccines?

KEITH: Well, one hopes not, but you don't know. And that's why there's so much urgency that - particularly global health advocates, but also within the administration. Part of the issue here is that, you know, rich countries vaccinated their people first. And now the phase of sharing with poorer countries is beginning. But that 110 million doses that the U.S. has been able to get out the door - and they are going to be pushing more out - but that 110 million doses is, in fact, the most shared by any country in the world. According to the White House, it is more vaccine doses shared than all the other countries combined.

SNELL: Wait, it seems kind of complicated, though, to compare the amount of vaccine that the U.S. is donating and exporting and sending out there into the world to other countries - even the other, you know, major economies that are working on this development - since the U.S. really has had a - you know, a major fraction of the number of doses even available in the world.

KEITH: Yes, the U.S. absolutely gobbled up a lot of doses, made contracts during the Trump administration and since, cemented contracts to get just a huge supply of vaccines to the U.S. - like, far more than could possibly ever be needed by the U.S. population. But the administration is also pretty clear that, although 110 million doses is a lot compared to other countries thus far, that the U.S. intends to share a whole lot more. And they expect other countries to do the same. I talked to Gayle Smith about that, too.

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SMITH: This is not a short-term emergency. This is happening in every country in the world. So we're going to have to maintain the speed, the rhythm, the push, the collaboration for a long time to come.

DETROW: The White House clearly wanted to be part of the global solution, but also repeatedly, pointedly said we're dealing with our own country first. Like, that was a very careful balance. Tam, have you got any sense in reporting this whether delta makes it harder to keep pressing to get vaccines around the rest of the world if we're in a situation where maybe we need boosters here?

KEITH: The U.S. has just ordered, gobbled up so many vaccines that the Biden White House doesn't see it as a choice. Now, the World Health Organization is arguing wealthy nations should not be using any extra dose for boosters when they should be sharing them with the world. But the White House does not accept that argument. And they generally view it as wealthy nations should vaccinate their own people, get their own economies rolling. But then they need to - you know, like, other countries need to pony up, essentially. And the White House is trying to push other wealthy nations to do more. Meanwhile, the administration is also trying to push the pharmaceutical companies to produce these vaccines faster than they're contracted - contractually required to so that they can get more out sooner. They're trying to accelerate, and they're trying to do more. But they also want other countries to do more.

DETROW: All right. Well, a lot more to talk about there, but that is it for today. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I also cover the White House.

SNELL: And I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress.

DETROW: Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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