An astonishing thing happened this week in Washington that didn’t get much critical coverage from a media establishment loath to criticize President Biden. At the behest of congressional Democrats, Biden flouted the Constitution and broke his oath of office by issuing a ban on evictions that he and his advisers know to be illegal.
By “ban on evictions” I mean the president issued a blatantly unconstitutional decree that renters all across America don’t have to pay rent. If landlords try to evict tenants for not paying rent, they could face criminal penalties including fines and imprisonment.
The eviction moratorium is one of the most important stories of the COVID-19 lockdowns but also one of the least covered, partly because its effects are so diffuse and partly because the left doesn’t want to draw undue attention to its evisceration of property rights under the guise of public health.
But the way all this has gone down illustrates a deeply disturbing reality about the Democrats running the pandemic response in Washington: They’re lawless, and as the pandemic drags on, they’re becoming bolder about it.
The background here is that a nationwide ban on evictions, first instituted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last September under President Trump and renewed under Biden, expired on Saturday. Since then, Democrats in Congress have been agitating for an extension of the ban despite a determination by the U.S. Supreme Court in June that the CDC has no legal authority to do that, as anyone with a passing familiarity of the U.S. Constitution could tell you.
That includes most everyone in the White House. Gene Sperling, who oversees the Biden administration’s rollout of COVID-19 relief, told reporters on Tuesday that the president “has not only kicked the tires; he has double, triple, quadruple checked” the legality of an eviction ban, but the CDC told Biden it was “unable to find the legal authority for even new, targeted eviction moratoriums.”
Indeed, the notion that a federal agency tasked with the control and prevention of infectious diseases could simply by fiat impose an “eviction moratorium” on the entire country, effectively nationalizing housing, is shocking and outrageous. Biden himself knows this. At a press conference on Tuesday, he said that “the bulk of the constitutional scholars say it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster.”
It sure isn’t. But later that same day he did it anyway. The next day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki came out and lied to reporters’ faces about the moratorium, claiming it wasn’t an extension of the old ban but a brand new one, “a more limited moratorium that was going to be impacting and helping areas that were hardest hit by COVID.” But Sperling had just said the day before, with Psaki standing at his side, that the CDC had determined that it had no legal authority even for a more limited moratorium.
So why the breathtakingly dishonest about-face? Because of pressure from left-wing Democrats who don’t give a damn about the rule of law or constraints on executive power — so long as their side is wielding it.
The pressure campaign of left-wing Democrats took the form of an embarrassing reality TV stunt. Members of “the squad” — Reps. Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley — along with other Democrats, began camping out on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Friday. A clip of Bush, surrounded by bags of potato chips and Oreo cookies, wringing her hands and seeming to fight back tears, circulated on social media to considerable and much-deserved derision.
Just after sunrise @CoriBush is still out on the steps demanding the House reconvene to pass eviction moratorium extension pic.twitter.com/y1KzXHoFT7
— Haley Talbot (@haleytalbotnbc) July 31, 2021
But the stunt worked. Biden’s CDC issued the order even though everyone in the administration knows it’s illegal and will eventually be struck down by the courts. The purpose of such a stunt is that because it will take a little while for the courts to act, the moratorium will provide some relief in the interim.
The utter contempt for the rule of law shown in all of this is simply staggering, as is the contempt shown for actual landlords, nearly half of whom nationwide are small-time landlords, people who own a second house or apartment that they rent out. Many of these people have gone a year without receiving any rent, yet they’re still liable for taxes, upkeep, and mortgage payments. Contrary to the cartoonish framing of the issue by Democrats and much of the corporate press — wealthy landlords throwing impoverished tenets out on the street — not all landlords are massive hedge funds or evil corporations.
This is so obvious even the New York Times acknowledged it in a recent piece about a woman in Queens who rents the first floor and basement of her two-story home but hasn’t been able to collect rent in 15 months. Her tenants, who began tormenting her and eventually left after the woman got an order of protection and then a warrant for the tenants’ arrest, owe her more than $36,000.
Landlords like this woman are supposed to be able to survive because of a $46.5 billion federal government rental relief fund. The problem is, the money isn’t being used, partly because many renters know they don’t risk eviction for not paying rent. With trillions of government aide already creating incentives for people not to return to work, the eviction moratorium creates an incentive not to pay rent — or even to apply for government assistance to pay it.
Beyond the terrible economics of all this is the abject disdain for the rule of law that it reveals. Not that Democrats are all that concerned about the law these days. The southwest border has descended into chaos amid an historic surge of illegal immigration fueled by the Biden administration’s stubborn refusal to enforce federal immigration law.
Democratic state lawmakers in Texas have fled their constituencies — and broken state law — to assemble in Washington and pressure Congress to pass a dubious and far-reaching federal voting law that would preempt a GOP-backed law back home and effectively nationalize elections in the U.S. They were joined this week by Democratic state lawmakers from all over the country.
Such examples abound. It should be clear by now that whatever else is constraining the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress, it isn’t the law. The law, for now, is whatever they say it is.