Biden touts his new student debt relief as ‘giving people a chance’ to succeed

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CULVER CITY, Calif. — President Joe Biden announced Wednesday he’s canceling an additional $1.2 billion in student debt for an estimated 153,000 borrowers, marking the latest in a series of executive actions aimed at tackling a priority for younger voters.

“I promise you: I’m never going to stop fighting for hard-working American families,” he said.

Biden added that forgiving student loans empowers recipients to buy homes, start families and contribute more to the economy.

“That’s all we’re doing: giving people a chance. A fighting chance to make it,” Biden told an audience of dozens, many of whom raised their hands when he asked how many have had student loans.

It was an attempt to appeal to young voters, but not on their turf. Wednesday’s event was held at a local library in the heart of Los Angeles County, instead of one of the numerous public universities nearby.

The White House has been more tight-lipped about the location of their events since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, as pro-Gaza protesters have sought to disrupt speeches by Democrats. In Detroit earlier this month, the White House did not disclose the location of the event until it began, and in Culver City, it waited until 24 hours prior to Biden’s remarks to reveal the location. A lone protestor stood outside the event at the Culver City Julian Dixon Library, oddly shouting that Biden “lost to Hamas” while also calling him “genocide Joe.”

Biden’s remarks come less than nine months before the general election, where he’s expected to face a rematch with Republican former President Donald Trump. Surveys show Biden is struggling with younger voters, who were a key ingredient of his 2020 victory against Trump and often rate student debt as a top concern.

In 2020, Biden carried voters aged 18-29 by a margin of 59% to 35%, according to the Pew Research Center’s study of validated voters. That advantage narrowed substantially in last month’s NBC News survey testing a rematch, which found that voters aged 18-29 prefer Biden over Trump by just 46% to 38%.

Trump has not offered a campaign plan to relieve student debt.

Biden on Wednesday outlined the way his new program will work: In order to receive the benefit, borrowers must be enrolled in the Saving on a Valuable Education — or SAVE — repayment plan. They need to have spent at least 10 years in repayment and taken out no more than $12,000 in college loans, the White House said before the event.

The White House said the debt cancellations will start “this week and those borrowers will receive an email today from President Biden informing them of their imminent relief.”

“If you qualify, you’ll be hearing from me shortly,” Biden said.

Biden said he wouldn’t be deterred from trying to use his executive power to ease debt burdens by opposition from “MAGA Republicans” or the Supreme Court, where a conservative majority has blocked his earlier initiative to allow borrowers to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt.

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Asked after his speech if he worries the courts will block his latest move, Biden replied, “I don’t have a worry at all.”

As has been the pattern in the president’s travel recently, he tacked on a stop at a local restaurant — CJ’s Cafe — in Baldwin Hills. The cafe, located in a predominantly Black part of the city, is just off Obama Blvd, named after the former president in 2019.

During the pre-speech stop, Biden was asked by a pool reporter if he needed a strong State of the Union address to win re-election. The president didn’t respond but Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, alongside him, said “he’s going to win anyway.” The room cheered.

Among Biden’s introducers here were Bass, as well as Culver City Mayor Yasmine-Imani McMorrin, who said she’s among the millions of Americans who are still struggling to pay off their student loans, as well as Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove, D-Calif., who represents this area in Congress, and Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif.

“Just last night, I heard from students who are talking about the high cost of education in this state because they want to know their government is listening to them. Well, President Biden is here. He’s been listening, and he’s been acting,” Kamlager-Dove said before Biden’s remarks. “Our president made promises to our students that he wouldn’t forget them. And he’s keeping those promises despite obstruction from the court, lawsuits designed to further burden our students with debt and an opposition to the false premise that students don’t deserve help.”

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