by Naomi Lim, Political Reporter | February 17, 2021
The White House is leaving open the possibility of President Biden forgiving $50,000 in federal student debt for some people, despite him seeming to dismiss the idea less than 24 hours earlier.
Biden doesn’t “favor” $50,000 in student loan forgiveness “without limitation,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday.
“He said previously that relief about $10,000 should be targeted, based on the borrower’s income, based on the kind of debt in question,” she said.
Psaki’s comments come as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, facing pressure from potential primary challenger New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren quickly criticized Biden for suggesting during a CNN town hall Tuesday evening that he has the executive authority to forgive $10,000 in student loans but not $50,000.
“Once his team is in place at the Justice Department, and they are not, of course, there, they’re not confirmed at this point, 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,” Psaki said.
“He hasn’t yet ruled out all of these ‘ifs and buts,'” she added.
During the town hall, Biden said definitively that he “will not make that happen” when asked whether he would forget up to $50,000 in loans without strings attached.
“I think any family making under $125,000 whose kids go to a state university they get into, that should be free,” he told the audience. “And the thing I do in terms of student debt that’s accumulated is provide for changing the existing system now for debt forgiveness if you engage in volunteer activity.”
He continued, “But my point is, I understand the impact of the debt. And it can be debilitating.”
Biden clashed with Schumer and Warren earlier this month over how much relief to grant, prompted by their introduction of a nonbinding legislative measure calling on Biden to increase his campaign promise of $10,000 to $50,000.
At the time, Psaki similarly said the senators should pass a bill rather than relying on executive fiat.
On Wednesday, Psaki also had to clarify the White House’s positions on how it defined its school reopening success after 100 days in office and whether vaccines were a prerequisite for teachers and students to return to their classrooms following mixed messages that chafed with Centers of Disease Control and Prevention guidance.
“Neither the president nor the vice president believe it is a requirement,” she said. “At the same time, the president and the vice president both believe teachers should be prioritized.”