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Dozens of Democrats demand Biden release legal memo on student debt cancellation

POLITICO
POLITICO
 2022-01-26
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a press conference about student debt outside the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 4, 2021 in Washington, D.C. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and dozens of other Democrats on Wednesday called on President Joe Biden to show his cards on student loan forgiveness and release a legal memo his administration prepared about his powers to cancel student debt.

The new request for the documents by 85 House and Senate Democrats comes as progressives are once again ramping up their pressure campaign to convince Biden to cancel large amounts of student debt ahead of the midterm elections.

“Publicly releasing the memo outlining your existing authority on cancelling student debt and broadly doing so is crucial to making a meaningful difference in the lives of current students, borrowers, and their families,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Biden that was shared with POLITICO. “It has been widely reported that the Department of Education has had this memo since April 5, 2021 after being directed to draft it.”

The letter was led by Warren and Schumer, and Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.).

Biden has been publicly skeptical of broad student debt cancellation and questioned his legal authority to do so. White House chief of staff Ron Klain last year said that the president had tasked the Education Department and Justice Department with developing memos on the issue.

But the Biden administration has declined to publicly release any memos about its legal authority to cancel student loan debt, including in response to a previous call from a smaller group of progressive lawmakers. The administration has also not said whether it agrees with a Trump administration legal analysis that concluded the executive branch lacks the authority to enact widespread debt cancellation on its own.

The Education Department last year, in response to an activist group’s Freedom of Information Act request, released an almost completely redacted legal memo dated April 2021 about the executive branch’s legal power to cancel student loan debt without further Congressional action.

“The President supports Congress providing $10,000 in debt relief,” a White House spokesperson said in a statement, responding to Democrats’ letter. “And he continues to look into what debt relief actions can be taken administratively.”

The extension of the payment pause announced in December will give “some breathing room to borrowers who are still coping with the pandemic,” the White House spokesperson added. “The Education Department will continue working to ensure a smooth transition to repayment in May.”

Key context: The Biden administration’s decision in December to reverse itself and extend the freeze on student loan payments and interest for another three months has emboldened activists who believe they can still convince the White House to outright cancel large swaths of student loan debt.

The new deadline for restarting monthly student loan payments and interest is May 1.

Biden last year during a televised town hall event ruled out canceling as much as $50,000 of debt per borrower as progressives are demanding. But the White House has said he supports canceling $10,000 through a new law passed by Congress.

On the campaign trail, Biden backed the $10,000 per borrower amount as an economic measure to respond to the pandemic. More recently, Biden did not answer a direct question posed to him about student loan forgiveness at a press conference last week.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has said that the administration is continuing to have conversations about broader loan forgiveness even as it touts the debt it has canceled by expanding or improving existing programs, such as those for public service workers or student borrowers who become severely disabled.

Comments / 64

Dorrit Sherman
01-26

Biden and his administration should be prosecute for corruption and treason, president job is to protect the border not to let criminals, terrorists, drugs … to flood our nation!

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TerYon
01-26

If they are going to start forgiving college debt there should be a requirement that they work in underserved areas and the cancellation of debt prorated for the length of time they work in those areas.

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one wish
01-26

what about the people that paid off their college loans prior and will have to in the future? should everyone that paid off their loan be reimbursed? should people that that get a college loan get in the future get forgiveness? and why? what about people with other debt? hospital bills that were denied coverage?

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