The White House is on the defensive following backlash over President Joe Biden’s comments dismissing the possibility of forgiving up to $50,000 in student loan debt — a plan backed by Senate Democrats and a number of progressive lawmakers.
Biden told his audience, in a town hall held Tuesday night, that he would not sign on to a plan to forgive $50,000 in student loan debt for individual federal borrowers, telling a questioner, bluntly, that, “I will not make that happen.”
“My point is: I understand the impact of debt, and it can be debilitating,” Biden said, noting that his children were among those who incurred hundreds of thousands in student debt from undergraduate and graduate studies. “I am prepared to write off the $10,000 debt but not fifty because I don’t think I have the authority to do it.”
The White House believes that Biden is able, under authority ceded to him under the Higher Education Act, to forgive around $10,000 per individual federal student loan borrower through an executive order, but that forgiving any amount above that must go through Congress.
The comments triggered an angry response from Democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) who opened a public rift with President Biden over Twitter.
“The case against student loan forgiveness is looking shakier by the day,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We’ve got the *Senate Majority Leader* on board to forgive $50k. Biden’s holding back, but many of the arguments against it just don’t hold water on close inspection. We can and should do it. Keep pushing!”
She was not alone, though. Later in the day, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), joined the chorus of voices demanding Biden think bigger and bolder.
“President Biden has the power to cancel student loan debt by executive action,” Schumer tweeted. “It would help close the racial wealth gap, and give a big boost to families and our economy.”
“An ocean of student loan debt is holding back 43 million borrowers and disproportionately weighing down Black and Brown Americans,” Schumer added in a later statement, authored with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). “Cancelling $50,000 in federal student loan debt will help close the racial wealth gap, benefit the 40% of borrowers who do not have a college degree, and help stimulate the economy.”
Schumer likely backs the plan because he wants student loan forgiveness but believes such a generous bailout will not pass the Senate, where Republicans have at least 50 votes.
The White House, though, clearly concerned about Democrats, backtracked furiously late Wednesday, offering to “explore” the possibility of forgiving more than $10,000.
“Once his team is in place at the Justice Department, he will ask them to conduct a legal review of his authority to act by executive action in conjunction with a policy review from his Domestic Policy Council on how executive action debt relief, if any, should be targeted,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
She reiterated that the president is unlikely to support a blanket $50,000-per-borrower bailout.
“He doesn’t favor $50,000 in student loan relief without limitation,” she said.
Ocasio-Cortez has already addressed that stipulation, however, calling the restriction discriminatory.
“Who cares what school someone went to? Entire generations of working-class kids were encouraged to go into more debt under the guise of elitism,” she said. “This is wrong. Nowhere does it say we must trade-off early childhood education for student loan forgiveness. We can have both.”