Psaki admits a little too much in struggle to defend Biden’s unlawful eviction moratorium power grab

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki tried but failed on Wednesday to defend the Biden administration’s illegal decision to unilaterally reinstitute a 60-day eviction moratorium in direct defiance of the Supreme Court’s authority.

Her excuses for the unprecedented, widely panned move did nothing to deflect from what The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board described in a stinging op-ed Wednesday as the administration’s “premeditated lawlessness.”

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court chose to leave the original eviction moratorium in place til the end of July but stipulated that an extension must go through Congress. But the Biden administration ignored this ruling and chose this week to institute a new eviction moratorium ostensibly only targeting communities with COVID.

The move was patently illegal, and several White House correspondents, much to their credit, tried to hold the administration accountable Wednesday by peppering Psaki with related questions during that day’s White House briefing.

Here’s one question below:

(Video: ABC News)

“Can you walk us through what changed from Monday to Tuesday, when it comes to the eviction ban? On Monday, Gene Sperling stood here and said the CDC has been unable to find the legal authority for even new targeted eviction moratoriums. There are many people across the administration who said the same thing,” one reporter noted.

Indeed, even President Joe Biden himself admitted while announcing the eviction moratorium Tuesday that it doesn’t pass “constitutional muster.”

Psaki responded by basically saying that the president had secretly asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find a way for them to “extend the eviction moratorium” anyway.

“Sunday … the White House was engaged directly with the CDC, at the direction of the president, to ask them to look into what legal options, if any, there were to extend the eviction moratorium. That process was underway for a couple of days. The announcement yesterday was a reflection of exactly that,” she said.

Here’s the next question:

“Who inside the administration signed off on the legality of what the CDC proposed yesterday? Is that the CDC’s lawyers, the Justice Department?” a reporter asked.

Psaki replied by claiming that the CDC’s lawyers and the White House Office of General Counsel had signed off on it.

“The CDC’s lawyers, as well as our Counsel’s Office — yes. I’m not aware of the Department of Justice’s engagement, but of course, that might make sense. I would have to check on that,” she said.

FYI, this isn’t a justification for illegality …

Here’s the next question:

“So, after the president was clear that it wasn’t legal, Gene Sperling was clear that it wasn’t legal, is this a ‘roll the dice and see if it gets challenged’ position from an administration that may be doing something it knows is not on legal standing?” another reported asked.

This time Psaki responded by essentially lying and claiming the president wouldn’t have moved forward with the illegal move if he “didn’t feel there was legal standing and legal support.” But he’s already admitted that there’s no legal standing.

She then tried to excuse the move by claiming that the delta variant of the coronavirus justifies the administration’s arguably criminal behavior.

“I would also note that the conditions have changed. The rise of the delta variant, especially in communities where there are large numbers of unvaccinated individuals, where there are growing case numbers, is certainly something that has raised the alarm for us, it has raised the alarm for members of Congress, and it has certainly added to the need to take this additional step,” she said.

Here’s the next question:

“The president may support the legal justification, but he also publicly gave voice to doubts about the constitutionality. What’s the White House’s message then to Americans who heard what happened yesterday, heard what was said at this podium on Monday, can’t square the two, and are now disappointed that the president is signaling that he doesn’t respect the rule of law,” another reporter asked.

This time the White House press secretary theorized that the American people are so touched by Biden helping out deadbeat renters that they won’t notice or don’t mind him breaking the law.

“I’m not sure there are Americans evaluating it to that degree. Maybe there are some of [them] you have talked to. I don’t know. What the president has — his message to the American people, especially those who are concerned about losing their homes, being kicked out of their homes, is that he’s going to do everything in his power to make sure they can stay in their homes as long as possible,” she said.

The reporter wasn’t impressed by this ‘feelings over facts’ argument.

“But the president is a lawyer, spent 36 years in the Senate, was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, eight years as vice president, half a year as president. He speaks often about democracy versus autocracy. He’s issuing or overseeing this order from the CDC in the face of doubts about its constitutionality, which he seemed to echo yesterday,” the reporter noted.

“If there’s no inconsistency here, the president is — I mean, there are many people out there who say that the president is essentially not giving voice to the ethic that he campaigned on. He didn’t call Congress back. He asked Congress to act; it didn’t. How do you square all that?” the reporter added.

In other words, despite Biden’s cries about how former President Donald Trump was acting like an autocrat, it turns out that he’s the one with the autocratic tendencies.

Psaki responded by basically saying that because the president thinks the new eviction moratorium has “legal justification,” that makes it OK.

“I think what’s important to note here is that the president would not have moved forward with a step where he didn’t feel comfortable and confident in the legal justification,” she said.

And here’s the final relevant question:

“What was the moment that the president became certain that he was on solid legal standing to move forward with this extension? And what was the argument, the specific legal argument, that won out and changed his mind?” a reporter asked.

Psaki responded by again claiming that the new eviction moratorium is entirely separate from the original moratorium. 

“Well again, as I’ve been discussing, the justification from the legal team is that this is a different moratorium. It’s narrow. It’s targeted at the highest — at the areas highest impacted. It is not an extension of the national moratorium that was struck down just six weeks ago,” she said.

None of her answers seemed to do anything to stem the tide of anger and confusion brewing among the public. If anything, her answers only further cemented their growing suspicion that this administration doesn’t give a damn about the law.

Vivek Saxena

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