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Biden’s student debt remarks in 2021 led White House staff to appease progressives, new book says

Biden's student debt remarks in 2021 led White House staff to appease progressives, new book says

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FIRST ON By Statements made by President Biden in Wisconsin last year created a tug of war between moderate and progressive Democrats over student debt forgiveness and forced some from the White House to clean up the president’s remarks, according to an upcoming book from two New York Times reporters.

An excerpt provided to Fox News from Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns’ forthcoming book, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future,” describes the rocky response from progressives after Biden made clear that he was not open to the idea of forgiving a great deal of student loan debt, particularly for those who attended Ivy League schools.

President Biden participates in a CNN town hall at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, Wis., Feb. 16, 2021.
(Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Speaking at a Milwaukee town hall in February 2021, Biden rejected an audience member’s plea for his administration to forgive at least $50,000 in student loans for Americans across the country. 

“I will not make that happen,” Biden said. “It depends on whether or not you go to a private university or public university.”


According to the book, Biden, who told audience members at the town hall he was uninterested in forgiving “the billions of dollars in debt for people who have gone to Harvard and Yale and Penn,” seemingly associated “hefty debts with fancy universities.”

Biden’s comments sent his staff, including chief of staff Ron Klain, into a spiral as they attempted to alter what the president said in an effort to appease the progressive wing of the party. That wing had been calling for him to forgive more than the $10,000 he had originally promised, the authors explained.

Despite Biden’s own remarks, Klain, according to the book, spoke in private “with several congressional supporters of debt cancellation to assure them his boss had not intended to take such a firm position.”

“One lawmaker who spoke with Ron Klain recalled him saying gently that sometimes Biden gets a little tangled up in his public statements,” the authors wrote. “When a group of House progressives raised the subject again with Klain in a meeting several weeks later, the trusted aide alluded to Biden’s comments as an error.”


“We corrected that the next day, right?” Klain said of Biden’s remarks, according to one lawmaker’s recollection that was featured in the book.

It was reported this week that Biden told members of Congress he’s looking at options to forgive student loans through executive action.

Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., suggested Biden is getting closer to canceling up to $50,000 in student loan debt for borrowers.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at the Capitol in Washington June 22, 2021.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“I’ll keep urging the president to take this important step. And I say to my colleagues, I think the president is moving in our direction,” Schumer said from the Senate floor. “My talks with him and his staff have been very fruitful over the last little while, and I am hopeful that he will do the right thing. We’re getting closer.” 

Speaking about the pause in loan payments, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that executive action from the president is on the table.

“He will make a decision before there’s an end to that pause,” Psaki said. “Right now, it’s been extended through August … and he is looking at other executive authority options.”

Progressives are pushing Biden to completely forgive student loan debt via executive order. They say the crushing debt hanging over many college graduates’ heads is forcing them to delay major life decisions and that student debt disproportionately affects minorities.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House March 4, 2022.
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)


Federal student loan payments were first paused in response to the economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns in May 2020 under former President Donald Trump. But as the economy exited the pandemic, Biden extended that pause multiple times after taking office, drawing criticism from Republicans.

The book is slated to be released May 3.

Fox News’ Paul Best and Tyler Olson contributed to this article.

Darshan Shah
the authorDarshan Shah