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Biden to extend student loan pause as court battle drags on

Student loan borrowers protested in Washington last week.Paul Morigi/Getty Images for We The 45 Million

The Biden administration extended the years-long pause on federal student loan payments Tuesday after Republican legal challenges temporarily halted President Biden’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in debt for millions of borrowers.

“Republican special interests and elected officials sued to deny this relief even for their own constituents,” Biden said in a video uploaded to Twitter. “It isn’t fair to ask tens of millions of borrowers eligible for relief to resume their student debt payments while the courts consider the lawsuit.”

The Education Department, which owns and manages the government’s $1.5 trillion student debt portfolio, said payments would not restart until 60 days after the department was legally allowed to proceed with Biden’s promised debt cancellation, or June 30, 2023, if the courts have not resolved the issue by then.

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That could delay the payment restart until September 2023.

Biden’s debt cancellation plan has become bogged down in lawsuits backed by Republican politicians and conservative advocacy groups. The administration last week asked the Supreme Court to take up the issue. An injunction issued by the Eighth US Circuit Court of Appeals — in response to a lawsuit filed by six Republican-led states — has blocked the government from moving forward with Biden’s plan.

Biden said he was “completely confident my plan is legal.”

More than 26 million people have applied to have up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt canceled under the program that Biden announced in August. So far, the government has approved 16 million borrowers’ applications. But court orders have blocked the department from wiping out any debt, and this month, it stopped accepting applications, citing the legal roadblocks.

The payment pause began in March 2020 under President Donald Trump as a pandemic relief measure and has been extended nine times, across two presidential administrations. The latest postponement is the sixth imposed by Biden.

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New York Times

Graham testifies to Ga. grand jury

ATLANTA — Senator Lindsey Graham testified Tuesday before a special grand jury that’s investigating whether former president Donald Trump and others illegally meddled in the 2020 election in Georgia.

The South Carolina Republican’s appearance before the panel came after a drawn-out legal fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court as Graham tried to avoid testifying. He had argued that his position as a senator shielded him from questioning. The courts rejected his assertion but did rule that prosecutors and grand jurors could not ask him about protected legislative activity.

Graham’s office said in a statement that he spent just over two hours with the special grand jury and “answered all questions.”

“The senator feels he was treated with respect, professionalism and courtesy,” the statement said.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis launched the investigation early last year. It is considered one of the most significant potential legal threats to the former president, who last week announced a third run for the White House. Graham is one of a number of high-profile Trump allies whose testimony has been sought.

When Willis filed paperwork in July seeking Graham’s testimony, she wrote that she wanted to ask him about a phone call he made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger shortly after the election.

Raffensperger has said Graham asked whether he could reject certain absentee ballots, which the secretary of state said he interpreted as a suggestion to throw out legally cast votes. Graham has called that idea “ridiculous.”

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Willis said in August that she hoped to be able to send the special grand jury home by the end of the year. But that timeline could be complicated by the fact that some of the testimony she’s seeking is tied up in appeals.

Associated Press

Jurors consider fate of Oath Keepers’ founder

WASHINGTON — Jurors began deliberating Tuesday in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot case accusing Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four of his extremist group associates of a violent plot to stop the transfer of presidential power from Republican Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden.

Federal prosecutors are asking the Washington, D.C., jury to convict the defendants of seditious conspiracy — a rarely used charge that carries up to 20 years in prison and can be difficult to prove.

Prosecutors spent weeks showing jurors messages, recordings, and surveillance video they say show Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, and his band of antigovernment extremists were prepared to take up arms to overturn Biden’s election victory over Trump.

Rhodes and two of his co-defendants — Thomas Caldwell, of Berryville, Va., and Jessica Watkins, of Woodstock, Ohio — took the witness stand and sought to downplay their actions and portray the riot as a spontaneous outpouring of election-fueled rage instead of the result of a preconceived plot.

The others on trial are Kelly Meggs, of Dunnellon, Fla., and Kenneth Harrelson of Titusville, Fla. Besides seditious conspiracy, all five defendants also face other felony charges. If found guilty of seditious conspiracy, they would be the first defendants convicted of the Civil War-era offense at trial in nearly 30 years. The last successful case was the prosecution of Islamic militants who plotted to bomb New York City landmarks.

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Associated Press

Hmong American to be mayor of Oakland

Oakland City Council Member Sheng Thao emerged as the winner of the city’s mayoral race under its ranked-choice voting system, with a margin of only 682 votes over her nearest opponent.

Thao, 37, will become the city’s youngest mayor in 75 years and also the first Hmong American woman to lead a major US city.

The Hmong are an ethnic minority who fled Laos in the 1970s after being persecuted by communist forces for supporting US Cold War efforts in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Four of the top 10 US metro areas by Hmong population are in California.

One of 10 children born to Hmong refugees who fled genocide and eventually settled in California, Thao made her personal story a central element of her campaign to run California’s eighth-largest city. Thao overcame an impoverished childhood in Stockton and survived domestic violence in her early 20s. She attended community college and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in legal studies, at times living in her car with her infant son.

“I’ve been through a lot to get to this moment, and have had so many people lift me up in order to get here,” Thao said in a statement after the vote tally was released late Monday.

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Bloomberg News