Administration

White House reviewing whether Biden can take action to cancel student loan debt

The White House is reviewing whether President Biden can take unilateral action to cancel federal student loan debt, press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday, as progressives push the administration to provide relief amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"The President continues to support the cancelling of student debt to bring relief to students and families," Psaki tweeted. "Our team is reviewing whether there are any steps he can take through executive action and he would welcome the opportunity to sign a bill sent to him by Congress."

The review is taking place through the White House Office of Legal Counsel.

Psaki's statement marked a shift from the White House, who earlier Thursday had punted on the issue and said Biden would look to Congress to pass a bill on student debt relief.

"The president has and continues to support canceling $10,000 of federal student loan debt per person as a result of the COVID crisis," Psaki said at a press briefing. "If it is passed and sent to his desk, he will look forward to signing it." 

Biden previously extended a pause on federally held student loan payments and interest accrual through September, an extension of a Trump administration policy.

Progressive Democrats have pushed Biden since he was elected to wipe out student loan debt. The federal government holds $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, owed by more than 43 million people. 

A group of Democratic lawmakers led by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) reintroduced a measure earlier Thursday calling on Biden to forgive up to $50,000 in federally held student debt per borrower.

"There's very little the president could do with a flick of a pen that would boost our economy more than canceling $50,000 in student debt," Schumer said.

Supporters argue that Biden has the authority and responsibility to forgive student debt as the coronavirus pandemic roils the U.S. economy and imposes the greatest burden on those least able to afford it.

The push to erase student loan debt is likely to run into GOP opposition, and some critics have questioned whether the Education secretary has the legal power to forgive student debt.

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