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Psaki Touts Student-Loan Payment Pause Amid Demands for Cancellation

  • 85 Democratic lawmakers urged Biden to release a memo on his legal ability to cancel student debt.
  • Psaki responded to the letter by touting the nearly two year student-loan payment pause.
  • The White House has remained largely silent on the memo, along with Biden’s campaign promise to forgive student debt broadly.

Dozens of Democratic lawmakers asked the White House for answers on the student debt crisis on Wednesday — and the White House responded by touting already implemented relief.

During a press briefing, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki about a letter 85 Democratic lawmakers sent to President Joe Biden on Wednesday demanding he release a memo that outlines his legal ability to cancel student debt broadly, along with forgiving up to $50,000 in student debt for every federal borrower.

When asked if Biden plans to release the contents of the memo, Psaki responded: 

“No one has been required to pay a single dime in federal student loans since the president took office over a year ago, and I’ll also add that our country is seeing one of the strongest economic recoveries in history and the pause announced in December gives some breathing room for several more months to borrowers who are still coping with the pandemic.”

She added that “the president supports Congress sending him a bill that would provide $10,000 in debt relief and he continues to look into what debt relief can be taken administratively.”

Psaki was referring to the three extensions of the student-loan payment pause under Biden, with the most recent extension being through May 1, 2022. 

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told Politico last April that Biden asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to create a memo on the president’s legal authority to forgive $50,000 in student loans per person. As Insider reported in November, redacted documents obtained by the Debt Collective, the nation’s first debtors union, indicated that the memo has existed since April 5, and that White House officials have seen its contents but haven’t made them public.

The White House has yet to acknowledge those documents and has stayed relatively quiet about Biden’s campaign promise to approve $10,000 in student debt forgiveness for every federal borrower. For example, during his first solo press conference of the year, Biden ignored a question from a reporter who asked if he plans to fulfill that campaign promise.

And in December, Psaki reiterated her Wednesday comments on the matter, telling reporters that if Congress sends Biden a bill to cancel student debt broadly, he would be “happy to sign it.”

But Democratic lawmakers are growing restless and want answers from the White House. New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez said during a virtual roundtable on Wednesday that “it would be good to be publicly known” whether Biden has the legal authority to cancel student debt.

“I have not read the memo,” he added, “but it is my view that the memo should ultimately certify that the president has the authority to do exactly what we’re advocating for.”

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