Trump administration tries to hamstring Biden on student loan forgiveness
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Education Department officials released a memo that concludes that the agency lacks the power to unilaterally forgive federal student loan debt on the scale that some Democrats want.
The legal opinion is not necessarily binding on the Biden administration, which could reverse or change its interpretation of the laws that govern federal student loans. But the memo comes as President-elect Joe Biden is already signaling that he will not accede to growing progressive demands that he employ executive action to cancel student loan debt.

The document was signed on Tuesday evening by Reed Rubinstein, who is serving as the acting general counsel of the Education Department. It was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Rubenstein addressed the memo to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, even though she resigned last Friday in the wake of a pro-Trump mob violently storming the Capitol. Rubinstein writes that DeVos had asked for his office to "memorialize" the department's legal view on the issue of student loan forgiveness.

DeVos has previously called Democrats' proposals to cancel student loan debt "crazy." In her farewell letter to Congress earlier this month, DeVos urged lawmakers to reject the incoming administration's push to cancel student loan debt.

Pressure from Democrats: Some Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who will become the Senate majority leader next week, have called on Biden to cancel as much as $50,000 of federal student loan debt per borrower. "You don't need Congress," he said in December. "All you need is the flick of a pen."

While campaigning, Biden endorsed $10,000 in student loan cancellation as an immediate coronavirus pandemic response. But he has signaled in recent weeks that he sees that as a legislative, not executive, priority.

A top economic adviser to Biden said Friday that Biden wants Congress to act on the loan forgiveness proposal, though the incoming administration will unilaterally extend the pause on most federal student loan payments and interest amid the pandemic. Biden also said last month that he is "unlikely" to pursue student loan forgiveness through executive action.

Michael Stratford
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