Under pressure from progressive Democrats, US health authorities on Tuesday declared a new moratorium on tenant evictions until October in much of the country, citing public health risks posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The emergence of the Delta variant has led to a rapid acceleration of community transmission in the United States, putting more Americans at increased risk, especially if they are unvaccinated," Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement.
The moratorium applies to "counties experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission" of Covid-19, according to a CDC statement, and is set to expire on October 3.
"This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of... settings where Covid-19 spreads," Walensky said.
Although likely to be challenged in court, the measure will allow tenants extra time to access funds previously issued by Congress to help people pay rent, President Joe Biden said from the White House.
For bureaucratic reasons, these payments were incredibly slow in reaching the US population -- only $3 billion has thus far been distributed to households out of $25 billion allotted to states and localities in early February.
Another $21.5 billion is available in a second round of funding, but it will not go out until the first tranche is spent.
"This brand new moratorium will provide time for the money allocated by Congress to flow, as it helps stop the spread of the virus which is worsening due to the Delta variant and protects families and landlords," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
A previous moratorium put in place in September 2020 by the CDC expired after a Supreme Court ruling in June stipulated that it could not continue beyond July 31 without authorization from Congress.
The Democratic Party's left wing had been raging for days against Biden, whom it held accountable for not having found a solution in time.
House lawmaker Cori Bush, who has herself experienced homelessness, had been camping in front of the Capitol since Friday, calling on Congress and the White House to act without further delay on behalf of the 11 million people threatened with eviction.
"Today, our movement moved mountains," Bush wrote on Twitter, welcoming news of the new moratorium on the steps of the Capitol, accompanied by progressive lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among others.
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Uncertainty is running rampant among Texas Democrats and Republicans as the final days of the special legislative session dwindle away.
The session officially ends Friday, and lawmakers are already gearing up for a second special session as House Democrats show zero interest in returning from Washington, D.C., and restoring quorum in the lower chamber for this session.
Abbott has promised to call a second special session to pass the GOP's priority voting bill, but the exact timing is uncertain. Abbott also has yet to detail what other items, if any, he intends to include on the agenda for the next special session. And House Democrats have not yet revealed what they have planned after the session ends this week.
At stake is the fate of the elections bill, which prompted Democrats who object to the legislation to leave in the first place, as well as the livelihoods of some 2,100 state workers and legislative agencies that are set to lose funding next month.
Here is how some of the top players are approaching the final days of the first special session:
Gov. Greg Abbott
Abbott has promised to call as many special sessions as needed to pass the elections bill and his other priorities. He has said he would call a second one to begin the day after the first one ends, though as of Tuesday, it was unclear if he will follow through on that.
If the first one goes all 30 days allowed under the Constitution, it would end Friday, and the next day would be Saturday. Past special sessions typically have started on weekdays.
An Abbott spokesperson confirmed Monday that he would call a second special session but declined to confirm the start date.
In any case, Republican legislators anticipate Abbott will want them back in Austin soon.
"I presume it's very quickly," state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, told reporters Tuesday. "I would imagine by next week we'll be back in session."
It remains to be seen if Abbott will add to this agenda in the second special session, though one thing is clear — he does not plan to curtail it. He has said he "will keep calling Special Sessions until we address every emergency item," referring to the 11 issues he laid out at the start of the first special session, such as pushing back against social media "censorship" of Texans and the teaching of critical race theory in schools.
Texas House Democrats
The over 50 House Democrats who left the state in July have been discussing what next steps should be taken as a group as the current special session comes to a close, with members holding hourslong meetings over the past week to consider their options.
Democrats could take a number of routes: They could return to Texas but remain in their districts, head back to the Capitol in Austin, stay in D.C. for the time being or head to another state to continue to prevent a quorum in the lower chamber.
The caucus has remained largely united in both its messaging and numbers since members landed in D.C., where the group has pushed Congress to act on federal voting rights legislation. Since they've been there, only one known member of the core group that fled — Philip Cortez of San Antonio — has broken ranks and returned to Austin, only to head back to D.C. soon after.
Democrats have been optimistic about the progress they say they have made with both Capitol Hill and the White House on that voting rights bill, though they have yet to score a meeting with President Joe Biden and have not appeared to move the needle with senators who want to protect the filibuster.
But last week, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, said Democrats could potentially get around the filibuster blockade by integrating elements of the federal voting rights legislation into the reconciliation process of an infrastructure bill that is moving through Congress.
State Rep. Alma Allen of Houston told reporters Tuesday morning that the caucus likely will make a decision on its next steps based on what happens in D.C. over the next three to four days. And state Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso emphasized that a lot could happen between now and Friday.
"I think we're gonna have a lot of success this week," he said.
If Democrats did again break quorum in the next special session, it's less clear what their specific goal would be in doing so. Abbott has said he will keep calling special sessions until the voting bill is passed, and Republicans hold majorities in both chambers.
There's also the question of whether members have the appetite or funding to carry out another potentially weekslong quorum break, which introduces a number of logistical hurdles for some, including time spent away from families and full-time jobs outside of elected office.
Regardless of what Democrats do next, some members say the caucus intends to stick together.
"The group is determined to stay together," said state Rep. Erin Zwiener of Driftwood on Tuesday. "When we return to the [House] floor, we will return together."
House Speaker Dade Phelan and Republicans
Perhaps more than any state leader, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, has had to consider both sides in the debate that's ensued throughout the special session.
Phelan has fielded calls from his right flank to reprimand Democrats who broke quorum, such as stripping them of their committee chairmanships. Phelan has said that under current House rules, the speaker does not have the jurisdiction to remove them from such posts.
As punishment for the quorum break, Phelan did remove Moody, the El Paso Democrat, as speaker pro tempore, a position that performs the duties of the speaker in the speaker's absence. Democrats blasted the decision.
Another question facing House members is how the current impasse will impact funding for the Legislature, which is set to expire Sept. 1 thanks to Abbott's veto earlier this year in retaliation for Democrats' initial walkout over the bill.
While the Texas Supreme Court could weigh in, already one House Republican — Dan Huberty of Houston — has asked campaign donors to help pay for his legislative staff, writing that "it requires money in order to fund the budget of a fully-functioning office."
"I hope you will consider giving any amount you are able to help compensate my team," he wrote. "Your support is critical for their continued employment."
House Democrats are also bracing for a potential drop-off in funding. Zwiener, the Driftwood Democrat, told reporters Tuesday that lawmakers are "putting plans together to take care of our own staff," but urged Republicans to stand up to Abbott and ask the governor "to not use our staffs as a weapon against the Legislature."
"You don't negotiate with a bully," she said, "you stand up to them."
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate
There is not much Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his Senate can do while they wait for House Democrats to come back to Austin.
A group of Senate Democrats initially joined their House counterparts in Washington, but the number of senators was not enough to break quorum in that chamber, and they have since returned.
The Senate has passed legislation related to Abbott's agenda, but it cannot make it to his desk without a quorum on the other side of the Capitol.
Like Abbott, Patrick is not in the mood for further negotiation on the elections bill and has said it will eventually pass "pretty much in the form that's in."
Frustrated with the standstill, Patrick has pitched lowering the quorum threshold from two-thirds to a simple majority and asked Abbott to add it to the next special session agenda. But the idea is a long shot — even if Abbott adds it to the call and Democrats show up for the second special session, the proposal would require a state constitutional amendment and thus a two-thirds vote to pass each chamber.
Sen. Harry Reid tells the government to continue studying UFOs after landmark report leaves more questions
Former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was behind funding for extensive research by government and military experts examining Unidentified Aerial Phenomena filmed over the years by the pilots. The full report published in June detailed 144 encounters that they still can't explain. All of the interviews with pilots, military specialists, scientists and officials ultimately lead to the conclusion that they have no idea what any of the sightings are.
Speaking to KPBS Midday Edition Tuesday, Reid said that he was disappointed in the report, though an admission that the government is just as clueless as Americans, is different.
"Harry Reid said he applauds the Pentagon for making it easier for military personnel to report sightings of unidentified aircraft and is urging Congress to press for more public disclosure of future sightings," said the report.
He implied in the interview that it's possible they wanted to bury the report since they released it on a Friday night.
"They obviously in reading the report, it was so cursory so thin," he said. "So marginalized. I am very disappointed. I would hope that people in Congress understand that that is not the way to satisfy the American people. The one thing we need to do is be transparent and this shows no transparency. We need to get to the bottom of this, continue working on. It seems to me, the more we study it, the more we don't know. And I think that's important that people understand that this is not some conspiratorial theory. This is real facts we need to get to the bottom line."
"I found very little of this new cut, but I have said, and I believe this, this can't be a one I don't we're through with it," he continued. "This has to be an ongoing program for the federal government is involved in studying these unidentified flying objects. They can no longer say they don't exist because they exist and we need to find out what they are. And the more we try to hide it, the more parent becomes at work trying to hide something from the American people. That's a long way to go."
During a "60 Minutes" special, a former Navy pilot expressed his concern that the Pentagon and military, in general, are so dismissive of pilots who report UFOs. His concern, he explained, is that there are foreign actors creating technologies unknown to the United States and that they continue to be ignored because the idea it is an unidentified flying object makes people look nuts. Reid said that the one good thing to come out of this is that the military is taking it more seriously now.
However, he explained, there are decades of reports and investigations about UFOs to uncover what they are. None of those were included in the report and Reid wants to know why sightings between 2004 and 2021 were the only things considered. Some of the videos have been examined and released to the public with little information. Reid believes that there should be ongoing study as we learn more and technology gets better.
"We've been talking about these UFO's for 70 years and we have not gotten any place other than to understand that the more we learn, the more we need to learn," he explained. "And so I am satisfied that the medical Pentagon is doing the right thing."
He said that he's "ready" to find out specifics about what these UFOs actually are.
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