President Joe Biden is reportedly looking into cancelling up to $50,000 in student loan debt per borrower, White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Thursday, a push that the president largely rejected back in February amid pressures from far-Left Democrats to address the student loan crisis.
In an interview with Politico Playbook, Klain said that Biden has asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to put together a memo on the president’s “legal authority” to forgive student loans and cancel up to $50,000.
Cardona noted that the president will make a final decision about his next moves in alleviating the student loan burden once Biden receives the memo, which could be in the upcoming weeks.
“He’ll look at that legal authority, he’ll look at the policy issues around that, and then he’ll make a decision,” Klain said. “He hasn’t made a decision on that, either way, in fact, he hasn’t yet gotten the memos that he needs to start to focus on that decision.”
Klain’s comments come as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are leading the Democratic effort to push the Biden administration to wipe out $50,000 worth of student loan debt per borrower through executive action, since Republicans are unlikely to stand behind the measure.
“Whether you have the debt, have a friend who has the debt, believe it’s the right thing, we’re asking you, email, call, write President Joseph Robinette Biden and tell him you want this done,” Schumer said, referring to the $50,000 cancellation initiative.
Experts anticipate that if Biden decides to cancel student loan debt under his presidential “legal authority,” Democrats would largely support the move, while Republicans would reject standing behind such an expensive measure.
“The issue polls well with Democrats, so I would expect the party to support the issue. On the other hand, most Republicans are against loan forgiveness so I would expect a vocal opposition, probably centered around the cost as well as the president overstepping his authority via the use of an executive action,” Michael H. Crespin, a political science professor and the director and curator of the University of Oklahoma’s Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center, said.
Although Biden has recently signaled an openness to the massive cancellation measure, the president previously opposed the effort in February at a town hall event, noting that he would consider cancelling up to $10,000.
“I understand the impact of debt, and it can be debilitating,” Biden said at the town hall event. “I am prepared to write off the $10,000 debt but not $50 [thousand], because I don't think I have the authority to do it.”
Last month, Biden separately asked the Department of Justice to examine his presidential powers to implement a widespread student loan cancellation.
The Biden administration has been quick to act on the $1.7 trillion student loan issue, as Cardona cut debt for nearly 72,000 borrowers who were defrauded by their colleges and wiped out the burden for more than 41,000 borrowers with total and permanent disabilities. The Education Department has also extended the pause on federal student loan debt repayments through September amid the economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus pandemic that’s left millions of Americans unemployed.
“President Biden seems determined to go big, so I would not be surprised if there was some sort of loan forgiveness if Biden determines he has the legal authority to do so,” Crespin said.
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.