Wind whipped along the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Sunday night as rain pattered, slowly soaking Rep. Cori Bush’s sleeping bag. She struggled to get warm — a familiar feeling, she said. Two decades earlier, the Missouri Democrat, who then lived in her car, spent sleepless nights shivering as she held her two young children in her arms.
This time, Bush chose to brave the elements. For three nights, she slept outside the Capitol, joining activists and fellow Democratic lawmakers protesting the lapse in the federal eviction moratorium, which had protected renters during the pandemic. The move drew national attention, forcing the White House to respond to Bush’s demands to temporarily halt evictions after Congress went on recess without addressing the issue.
On Tuesday, Bush’s campaign succeeded.
The Biden administration announced a 60-day eviction ban for U.S. counties with “substantial and high levels of community transmission,” according to a news release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With the virus’s delta variant quickly spreading throughout the United States, renters in about 90 percent of the country qualify for the new moratorium, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
Bush wiped away tears as she shared the news of the renewed protections, which run through Oct. 3, with activists sitting on the Capitol steps.
“We just did the work — just by loving folks — to keep millions in their homes,” she said.
Democrats and civil rights activists are praising Bush for leading the five-day protest. Some noted that by evoking her own experiences with housing insecurity, Bush forced fellow lawmakers to understand the realities of eviction.
“Thank you to everyone who kept a spotlight on this — particularly [Cori Bush] who understands what it’s like to lose your home and turned passion into action,” Schumer tweeted Tuesday.
In the days leading up to the CDC’s announcement, tensions mounted between the White House and left-leaning lawmakers who grew angry after the president resisted an extension. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who declined to reconvene the House to address the moratorium’s Saturday expiration, pushed the Biden administration to extend the ban.
But the administration resisted the move because it may prove unconstitutional, noting that the original moratorium was barely approved by the Supreme Court in June. Conservative Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who joined the liberal justices in upholding the CDC’s emergency order through the end of July, wrote that it wasn’t worth it to stop the eviction ban, given it was ending a month later. He added that he believed any further extension would require congressional approval.
President Biden noted that despite the likely court challenge, the extension will give the administration time to disburse rental assistance. Congress approved a total of $46 billion in emergency funds in December and February to help tenants pay their rent, but the process to give out the money has been painfully slow.
Bush, who was elected in 2020 after she gained national attention for her work as a Black Lives Matter organizer in and around Ferguson, Mo., began camping outside the Capitol on Friday after the House adjourned. She invited Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to join her.
Activists and other Democrats also gathered on the steps, including Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Jimmy Gomez (Calif.).
Bush quickly became the face of the protest. For five days she posted on social media, pressuring Democrats in the House and the White House to act.
Her efforts proved effective — the CDC announced the 60-day extension Tuesday afternoon. Tearful celebrations and praise for Bush followed.
“You did this,” Schumer said as he embraced Bush and Ocasio-Cortez outside the Capitol. “You guys are fabulous.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who joined the protest over the weekend, ran up to Bush and hugged her.
“I used to ask myself a question: ‘Does it matter that I’m here instead of somebody else?’ And you’ve now answered that question. It matters that you’re here, not someone else,” Warren said to Bush in video captured by NBC News.
Despite the attention, Bush noted in a news conference Tuesday evening that she was not alone in pushing for change.
“This is not ‘The Cori Show,’” she said. “This is a group of people who just love people and know that it’s our work as humans, regardless of title … to end human suffering.”
Later, standing before a group of activists on the steps of the Capitol, Bush beamed. She accepted the CDC’s announcement as proof that activism works, despite the possibility the extension could be challenged.
“You don’t have to have a big name and a big title. You don’t have to have big money,” Bush said. “But big courage takes you a long way. Big purpose takes you a long way.”
“There is a new fire in every single person that’s out here right now,” she added. “You’ve got to share it because that’s how we change our world.”