Want to see up to $50,000 of your federal student debt canceled?
“Send a note to President Biden,” suggests Senator Elizabeth Warren.
In a virtual town hall with constituents Wednesday evening, Warren exhorted supporters to take the student debt issue, and other progressive causes, directly to the new occupant of the White House. So far, Biden has proved unconvinced by a pitch from Warren and others to immediately cancel a big chunk of federal student loan debt for the roughly 44 million Americans who carry it. Instead, Biden has called on Congress to pass legislation forgiving up to $10,000 in student debt per borrower.
Undeterred, Warren, along with Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and an outspoken group of progressive lawmakers and allies, has continued to push the priority.
The message on Wednesday — that constituents should take the fight directly to the White House — offers an early look at how Warren will continue to press Biden from the left to advance progressive priorities. She pled her case genially but firmly, and made clear to supporters it will be their job, too, to help nudge the president out of his moderate comfort zone.
Warren’s push on the student debt issue marks the first notable instance of Warren deploying an outside pressure campaign against Biden, a tactic she used at key moments during the Obama administration. Warren has played a mostly inside game with Biden to date: She has spoken personally to Biden on her debt cancellation proposal, and she has lobbied his team to hire certain people.
Canceling $50,000 in student debt would improve the economy — even for people who don’t carry it themselves — and make major strides in addressing the racial wealth gap, Warren argued.
“I’m all in on this one,” Warren added Wednesday from her Cambridge home. “And if we could persuade the president, we could do this one fast.”
Central to that speed is Warren’s position that Biden could take the major step without action from Congress. Pointing to related, but more narrow, actions taken by the Obama and Trump administrations that relied on the same legal authority, Warren and her allies insist Biden can cancel the debt immediately. Less convinced, Biden intends to ask the Justice Department to study the issue, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing Wednesday.
“There is a legal review,” Psaki said in response to a question from The Boston Globe. “There’s going to be a review by our domestic policy team to consider all of these options, and we’ll wait for that conclusion before a final decision is made.”
Psaki’s comments seemed to walk back remarks Biden made during a CNN town hall Tuesday night, when the president appeared to reject the proposal to use his executive authority to cancel such a huge amount of student debt. While he expressed interest in finding ways to relieve the burden of student debt, Biden said he didn’t think he had the authority to write off such a large amount through executive action.
Psaki said Biden was reiterating his previously stated position on the issue.
“He continues to believe that relief about $10,000 should be targeted,” she said.
Progressive policymakers and groups immediately pushed back on Biden’s comments.
“Yes, @POTUS does have the authority to #CancelStudentDebt with the stroke of a pen,” Pressley tweeted Tuesday night after Biden’s town hall comments. “He can and must use it. The people deserve nothing less.”
Student loan forgiveness was not the only progressive cause Warren pushed the president on on Wednesday.
Asked about the high price of insulin and other drugs, Warren took much the same tack, calling for immediate executive action from Biden — and calling on her supporters to persuade him to take it.
“The president has the power to do it,” she said. “Let’s get him to use it.”
Jess Bidgood of Globe Staff contributed to this report.