The effort, which is part of a broader push for student debt relief, was led by Warren, Schumer, and Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Katie Porter of California.
It’s worth noting that several Warren alums now hold key policy positions within the Biden administration, including at the Department of Education. It’s not a stretch to imagine that Warren is very clear about the memo’s existence and, perhaps more importantly, its contents.
At the White House press briefing Wednesday, press secretary Jen Psaki declined to say whether the administration planned to release the memo, though she didn’t deny its existence. Psaki reiterated a well-worn line that the administration was focused on ensuring “a smooth transition to repayment” for borrowers.
But Psaki was also eager to note the work the administration has done on the issue, starting with issuing several extensions of the freeze on student loan payments, most recently through May 1.
“No one has paid or been required to pay a single dime of federal student loans since the President took office over a year ago,” noted Psaki. “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.”
Psaki also ticked through a list of Biden administration initiatives that she said have totaled some $15 billion in forgiveness for more than 675,000 student-loan borrowers.
“So, we have been doing a broad range of forgiveness and also have had this pause in place, meaning that no one who has student loans has been required to pay since the President took office,” she said.
Regardless of what the memo concluded, President Biden seems truly resistant to unilaterally cancelling even the $10,000 in student debt he backed on the campaign trail, let alone the $50,000 that many advocates are agitating for.
Instead of going big, the administration has tinkered around the edges of student debt relief, assembling a patchwork of forgiveness that has proven both hard for borrowers to navigate while also lacking the political upside of being broadly noticed and understood by the public.
That forgiveness has undoubtedly been a game-changer for some 675,000 borrowers, but from a brass-knuckles political standpoint, it’s been practically useless.
As I have argued, Biden taking high-profile action on canceling student debt is a political imperative if Democrats want to have a chance of emerging from the November elections still in control of either chamber of Congress.
It’s also something Biden can likely do unilaterally, without the help of recalcitrant Democratic senators, such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Any action Biden can take between now and November to shore up Democratic base voters should no longer be in question, and voters who care about the issue deserve to know what Biden’s administration found in regard to the president’s authorities.
But if you’re wondering why this matters, look no further than Biden’s current approval rating in Civiqs polling among voters aged 18 – 34.
Those young voters turned out in historic numbers in 2020 and proved to be a critical part of the coalition that delivered the White House and the Senate to Democrats.
If the Biden White House wants them to be engaged in November, it needs to start acting like it. This isn’t a matter of losing one midterm election—in this case, saving the republic is actually on the line.
And if the tables were turned, a Republican president wouldn’t think twice about taking an action that would excite a critical group of voters, 60% of whom voted for them in 2020.