July 24, 2024

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Bharat Ramamurti

FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Releases New Strategy to Tackle Plastic Pollution, Takes Action to Reduce Single-Use Plastics in Federal Operations

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room  4:30 P.M. EDT MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Good afternoon, everybody. Q    Good afternoon. MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  So, today, we’re joined by Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, and Deputy NEC Director, Bharat Ramamurti.  They’re here to speak about the Supreme Court’s decision on st- — on the student debt relief […]

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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 

4:30 P.M. EDT

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Good afternoon, everybody.

Q    Good afternoon.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  So, today, we’re joined by Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, and Deputy NEC Director, Bharat Ramamurti.  They’re here to speak about the Supreme Court’s decision on st- — on the student debt relief this morning and — as you all know, you just heard from the President. 

And so, before we get — we go there, I just want to talk about a few things at the top.  And then we’ll — I’ll hand it over to our two guests.

First, we are deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision today in 303 Creative, which takes our nation backward in the fight for equality.  This decision undermines the basic truth that no American should face discrimination for who they are or who they love.  And it’s even more disappointing as we close out Pride month today. 

It chips away at a longstanding laws that protect all Americans against discrimination in public accommodations, including people of color, people with disabilities, and people of faith, and women.

While the Court’s decision only addresses expressive original designs, as President Biden said today, we are concerned that the decision could invite more discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

And we know that when one group’s dignity and equality are threatened, the promise of our democracy is threatened, and we all suffer.

The administration will remain focused on enforcing federal anti-discrimination protections, and the President will continue to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act. 

Now, second, as we head into July 4th, the Department of Transportation and the FAA are working closely with airlines to help minimize flight disruptions resulting from extreme weather. 

Airline operations quickly recovered from the weather earlier this week, except for United Airlines, which expects to return to normal tomorrow.  But we will continue to keep a close eye on all this. 

And we want to remind air travelers to visit FlightRights.gov — again, that’s FlightRights.gov — to see what you’re entitled to if your flight is cancelled or delayed.

Finally, as you know, we normally do the week ahead on Fridays, but because it’s 4:30 on Friday ahead o- — going into a holiday weekend, we’re going to send the week ahead through a pool note in a couple of hours, before the end of the day for sure.

But before I move on, I want to acknowledge someone in the room who you all know very well and who has been a friendly face to all of you and to all of us.  That is Ed Lewis.

Ed is retiring today, after 25 years as photographer for Fox News and 14 years at C-SPAN.  (Applause.) 

In his career — hi, Ed.  (Laughter.)  In his career, Ed has covered every president since Ronald Reagan.  Right?  Not to age you, my friend.  (Laughter.)  You look young, 21.

I know he is a friend to many folks here, and is — certainly many folks on my team.  He always has a smile.  Every time I see him, he always waves, smiles, and gives me a thumbs-up.  So I give you thumbs-up back to you, my friend.

And I know many of you have seen him travelling, carrying like 13 bags, or something like that — (laughter) — all at once.  So, incredibly impressive.

So, Ed, thank you for being a joy to work with.  I hope you are en- — you will enjoy more time at the tee, following your last day here, and we will truly, truly miss you.  And thank you for just always being a friendly face.

We do — the team decided to get you something.

Q    Awww —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, here you go.

Can you step away for a second, or do I have to come back — I can come back.

Q    (Laughter.)  Awww —

(Ms. Jean-Pierre walks to the back of the briefing room.)

(Applause.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  A first.  (Laughter.)

All right.

Q    First time I’ve ever (inaudible) anything like this.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Oh, and — you’re very welcome.  (Laughter.)  Very excited.

Okay.  So, now I’m going to turn it over to Secretary Cardona, who is going to say a few words about the plan that the President announced today after the Supreme Court decision.  And then, of course, Bharat, as you know, is here to take any questions, as well.

Mr. Secretary —

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  — that’s for you.

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Thank you.

Good afternoon.  In the last 48 hours, our country has been set back, in terms of providing equity and access in higher education.  And as you heard from the President, today the Supreme Court ruled against more than 40 million working families.

Let’s be clear about who would have benefited from the President’s student debt relief plan.  Nearly 90 percent of relief would have gone to borrowers making less than $75,000 a year.  Twenty million Americans would see their debts dropped to zero, with twenty million more seeing lower payments.

This would mean fewer borrowers falling into the delinquency and default when payment pause ended. 

We’re not talking about the millionaires who benefited from the billions in tax giveaways a few years ago.  We’re talking about low- and middle-income families recovering from the worst pandemic in a century.

I strongly disagree with the Court’s decision here.  So today, I want to assure our students, our borrowers, and families across America: Our fight is not over.  We’re taking action.

The President, the Vice President, and I have put borrowers first from day one.  We refuse to go back to the way things were before the pandemic, when a million borrowers defaulted each year and faced devastating financial consequences. 

So let me tale [sic] — tell you about the actions we’re taking today. 

Number one, we’re going to open up an alternative path to debt relief for as many borrowers as possible as quickly as possible. 

While we acknowledge the Court’s decision, we began the negotiated rulemaking process on settlement and compromise authority today.  More information on the new regulations will come out shortly.

Number two, today, we’re rolling out the most affordable income-driven repayment plan ever.  This new plan is called Saving on a Valuable Education — SAVE.

It’ll cut monthly payments in half for all undergraduate loans.  It’ll cut payments to zero dollars for millions of people making less than $33,000 a year.  All other borrowers will save at least $1,000 per year. 

This plan will stop runaway interests, and it’s not going to require you to pay more than you can afford. 

And number three, as the Presid- — as the President mentioned, we’re creating an on-ramp for repayment for up to one year for those who need it. 

This means although interest will accrue starting September 1st and payments are due starting in October, we’ll help borrowers who are struggling to make payments avoid harsh financial consequences, such as delinquencies and wage garnishments.  Borrowers who can make payments should. 

Again, I disagree with today’s decision from the Supreme Court. 

Today, the Court substituted itself for Congress.  It’s outrageous to me that Republicans in Congress and state offices fought so hard against a program that would have helped millions of their own constituents. 

They had no problem handing trillion-dollar tax cuts to big corporations and the super wealthy.  And many had no problems accepting millions of dollars in forgiven pandemic loans, like Senator Markwayne Mullin from Oklahoma had more than $1.4 million in pandemic loans forgiven.  He represents 489,000 eligible borrowers that were turned down today. 

Representative Brett Guthrie from Kentucky had more than $4.4 million forgiven.  He represents more than 90,000 eligible borrowers who were turned down today. 

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia had more than $180,000 forgiven.  She represents more than 91,800 eligible borrowers who were turned down today. 

I want all the students and borrowers to know President Biden, Vice President Harris, and I will not stop fighting for you.  You should be able to earn a college education without student debt blocking you from opportunity. 

That’s why we’re fixing a broken system.  We’re protecting the next generation by increasing college accountability, fixing public service loan forgiveness, and going after predatory college, in addition to increasing Pell Grants.

Today, we’ve approved more than $66 billion in targeted loan forgiveness, and we’re not going to stop fighting. 

We cannot allow the setbacks of yesterday and today to stop us from reimagining a better tomorrow, one in which all students from different income levels and racial backgrounds have access to affordable pathways to college and career. 

Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Let’s start it off.

Q    Good afternoon, sir.  Could you give us any details about how you plan to apply the HEROES Act — I’m sorry, the — the Higher Education Act to this?

And it — it seems like if — if the HEROES Act was on legally scurrilous footing, this might be even more so.  And if — if you’re more secure that this is a legal route to do it, why didn’t you just use this in the first place?

SECRETARY CARDONA:  We believe the Supreme Court got it wrong today.  We believe the HEROES Act does give me the authority.  The Supreme Court made their decision today.  We accept that.  The Higher Education Act has a pathway, and we’re going to use that pathway.

Q    But if — if you think that’s a better way to do it, why didn’t you just use that in the first place?

SECRETARY CARDONA:  We believe that the HEROES Act pathway was quicker and we had the authority to do that.

Q    The President said that this new path would take some time, that it will take longer.  How long are you expecting it to take?  And you also mentioned that more details will be rolled out.  When will that be happening?

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Sure.  So it is a regulatory process.  And I’ll turn it over to my colleague, Bharat, in a second.  But that process does take longer, as the President said, which is why we started with the HEROES Act.  We had the — believe we had the authority and we were ready to act, and it was stopped through a lawsuit ri- — right when we were going to provide the debt relief.

Do you want to comment on that, Bharat?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Sure.  So the Higher Education Act rulemaking is — goes through what’s called the negotiated rulemaking process.  That’s actually different than your typical rulemaking process.  As you all know, even a typical rulemaking process can take some amount of time.  You have to do a proposal, it has to receive comments, it has to be finalized, and so on. 

The negotiated rulemaking process — again, by law — is even more complicated than that, in that there needs to be public hearings that involve back-and-forth with relevant stakeholders, relevant members of the public.  So it’s going to take some amount of time.

What you heard from the President today was that we are committed to moving as quickly as possible to get through all of those steps until we get a final proposal.  And it’s indicative of that that the Secretary, in just the hours between when the Supreme Court issued its opinion and to — and right now, has already initiated that process, has already filed the necessary paperwork to get it going. 

Q    But that sounds like a pretty complicated process.  Are we talking about weeks, months?  What —

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Well, certainly not weeks.  It’s going to be months.  I think, as I said, even the typical rulemaking process typically takes months.  But we are aiming to do it as quickly as possible.  And so, we will give you more updates as we hit each milestone in that process.  I don’t know if the Secretary mentioned this, but the first step is going to be a public hearing.  That’s going to happen in July.  So that’s going to get the ball rolling beyond what we did today. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Steve.

Q    And the President said that this new plan is legally sound.  How did you reach this conclusion?  Did you do an analysis, or what exactly?

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Lawyers from the Department of Education, from the White House, from the Department of Justice all reviewed this plan.  They weighed in and believe that it was legally available.  I should be clear that they did the same for the HEROES Act.  And obviously, we ran into a Supreme Court that had a different view of things — frankly, a view that we believe is out of step with where the law is. 

But we have the backing of all of the relevant attorneys here from the attorney — from the Department of Justice, from the Department of Education, and from the White House, all believing that this is a valid pathway to providing debt relief to many borrowers.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, (inaudible).

Q    Would the same number of Americans who would have benefited under the previous plan benefit under this pathway?  Is it a smaller number?  Is it a bigger number?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Well, one of the things about the rulemaking process is that we can’t actually prejudge its outcome.  Part of how we do this process is that we initiate it, we put a proposal on the table, we work with stakeholders to get their input.  That ends up shaping the scope of the proposal. 

So it’s too early to say, but we have clear guidance from the President and the Secretary that our goal is to provide relief to as many borrowers as possible under this process.  So you’ll hear more about that as we get to each stage of the process going forward. 

Q    But can you say at all whether this will be a more narrow plan than the one that was struck down?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  It’s too early to say.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Colleen.

Q    Sorry —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  (Inaudible.)

Q    I had a question on the 12-month.  It’s not a pause, but what is going to happen in the interim for people who are

impacted by the decision?

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Sure.  So, you’re right, it’s not a pause.   What we’re — what we’re communicating to borrowers is, you know, the interest will start accruing, and the payments are due.  And if you’re able to pay, pay.  But we’re not going to be, you know, sending information to credit agencies or having folks go into delinquency. 

Three years have passed.  Forty-three million Americans were waiting today for a decision and a little bit of help.  And the Supreme Court shut that down. 

What I want to tell borrowers is: This on-ramp is intended to support you, make it back to repayment with dignity and back on your feet.  We want to prevent delinquencies.  We want to prevent defaults.  That’s why we did this targeted loan forgiveness in the first place. 

So this on-ramp is not a loan pause.  It is a process through which we’re going to support our borrowers by not, you know, sending information to credit agencies if they’re missing a payment.  But we’re encouraging payment to be made, and interest will be accruing in the process. 

Q    And if the process on the new rulemaking takes longer than 12 months, would you be willing to extend this beyond a year? 

SECRETARY CARDONA:  You know, from day one, the President, Vice President, and the Department of Education has been focused on getting more students into higher education and making sure that higher education doesn’t mean a lifetime of debt, where people can’t buy homes or have children, or are discouraged from being public servants.  That’s what we’re focusing on. 

So we’re going to take it — this step is going to be a 12-month process.  We’re going to make sure we’re communicating with borrowers clearly.  And we’re going to make it as smooth as possible for repayment.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  In the back.  Go ahead.

Q    This administration was very confident that the HEROES Act would work.  Of course, the Supreme Court blocked that.  Why should borrowers trust you this time that this one will work?

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Yeah.  There has been no other president that has done more to fight for student debt relief, to fight to make higher education more accessible.

Look, I was a classroom teacher.  I was a district leader.  I had too many conversations with parents who thought college was out of reach for their kids.  And in the last 48 hours, these two decisions from SCOTUS make me want to fight harder to make sure that we’re giving them opportunities — opportunities like I had, as a first-generation college student.

There are too many people watching right now that are worried that they’re not going to be able to access college or that they’re not going to be able to afford it.

With the SAVE plan, the income-driven repayment plan, with the on-ramp, and with the processes that we’re going to take, we’re doing everything we can to fight for our students and to give them the opportunity to access higher education.

Q    The lawyers that you’re saying believe that this path is sound, you know, this path could face the same Court —

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Right.

Q    — as the previous plan.  So, given that the lawyers got the outcome wrong the last time with the Court that we have, how is this going to impact, you know, Bidenomics and the central piece of the 2024 campaign, which has hinged on this forgiveness plan and people believing that it’s possible?

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Yeah.

Q    What has changed?

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Sure.

Q    The Court isn’t changing.  So what — what’s changing?

SECRETARY CARDONA:  So, I’ll let Bharat answer that about Bidenomics and the long-term impact.  But we’re going to fight.  We’re going to keep fighting.  And there were many other legal scholars that believe we had the authority under the HEROES Act.  I mean, the HEROES Act makes it pretty clear I have the authority to modify or waive. 

The Supreme Court saw it differently.  We’re moving forward in another path.  And we’re going to put the best legal argument forward to provide relief for borrowers.  That’s our focus, and we’re not going to stay off of that.

Q    Do you think, though, that this Court will see eye to eye with you?  It’s going to be the same Court —

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Right.

Q    — if challenged legally.

SECRETARY CARDONA:  We’re going to keep fighting, and we’re going to put the best legal argument for it to stand up for borrowers and to keep fighting for affordable college. 

Did you want to talk about the bigger plan — Bidenomics?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Sure.  Well, I just want to add one thing on that question.  It’s — we’re just beginning the rulemaking process now.  There’s going to be time to craft the exact proposal under this new legal authority. 

You know, one thing, of course, that we’ll keep in mind is how this plan is going to be received by the courts.  But what the President believes is that if his lawyers, who are all highly qualified attorneys, tell him that a path is legally available, he’s going to trust them, and we’re going to put our best foot forward in court to defend it. 

And what I would say to borrowers is that we are taking action on multiple fronts to help them in light of the Supreme Court opinion today.  There is the 12-month on-ramp to repayment, which is going to be a real benefit to borrowers who may be having trouble getting started again on their repayments and who may have to skip a payment or two because they need to get their financial situation together. 

Previously, they may have been put into delinquency or default or seen a negative mark on their credit report.  We’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen for the first 12 months.  So that’s a real benefit to those borrowers. 

And as the Secretary said — and I don’t want people sleeping on this — this income-based repayment plan that we’re rolling out today that was finalized is a huge deal.  It is going to save the typical borrower $1,000 a year on their loan repayments. 

Somebody who is making $50-, $60,000 a year is going to see a substantial savings and may even end up paying zero dollars in their monthly payment because of these n- — this new program. 

And, by the way, one concern that people have had about the income-based repayment program in the past is that if you were making these smaller payments, your balance would keep growing over time.  One of the reforms we’re putting in place is making sure that that balance doesn’t grow over time, even as you are making potentially a zero-dollar payment each month.

It is a big deal for both current borrowers and for all the future borrowers who are out there. 

Now, I want to be clear: That’s not a substitute for debt relief, but it is a huge benefit for borrowers that is going to be available coming this summer.  And we encourage people to sign up for it. 

Q    You talked about the timeline on this.  It sounds like it’s going to take a long time.  Are you — is the administration taking any steps to speed up the regulatory process: shortened deadlines, waiving the typical public co- — comment requirements?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Well, there are requirements that are laid out in the law that we have to follow.  At- — but we are committed to doing those requirements as quickly as we possibly can, while keeping with the spirit of the law. 

Like I said, we have to do these public hearings.  There has to be a certain amount of preparation to do the public hearings.  You have to intake the comments that you get from the public, and then you have to decide whether to change your proposal accordingly before you do the next public hearing. 

All of that takes some amount of time.  But as the Secretary made clear, as the President made clear, we are doing that as quickly as we possibly can, starting with the fact that we have already initiated the process today, in just the handful of hours since the Supreme Court issued its opinion.

Q    Has the administration considered an executive order that would lower interest rates for these federal loans?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  We looked at a number of possibilities.  The President’s direction to us was to look at all available legal authorities to figure out what we can do to provide relief to borrowers.  The specific proposal that you discussed was not the one that we went with, eventually. 

We think that this pathway that we have laid out here is the fastest way to provide the relief to the most amount of borrowers.  And so, that’s what we’re going with now.  We think it’s legally available.  And we look forward to providing that relief to borrowers as soon as this process is done. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Tam, and then we’ll go to the back row.

Q    Are you on totally solid legal footing with the income-based repayment changes or could there be lawsuits challenging that as well?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  That authority is crystal clear.  There is a specific statute allowing the Secretary to design these income-based repayment programs.  And the specific details of this income-based repayment program are — are clearly within what’s permitted under the statute there. 

And so, we — I would be surprised, frankly, if there was a legal challenge to that proposal. 

Q    And you say it’s not a substitute, obviously, for debt forgiveness.  Are there — and — and I think this is a known answer, so I’m sorry for even asking it — but, like, how big is the universe of people who don’t qualify for the income-based repayment who just aren’t going to be covered by this exciting thing you just offered?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Sure.  Every single borrower is eligible for this program.  Now, the key is that if you’re an extremely high-income borrower, your income may be so high that the specific benefit, where you cap your payment at a percentage of your income, doesn’t actually benefit you because that percentage is still higher than what your monthly payment would be. 

But it — it stretches pretty far up the income spectrum so that, you know, the kinds of folks who are eligible for the initial debt relief program we’re talking about — people making $75-, $80,000 a year — are — are certainly going to benefit from this. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Courtney.

Q    Thank you.  The opinion touches on the President’s authority to act without specific permissions on Congress and cites several opinions that I know have tripped up Biden administration policies over the last couple of years.  Can you talk about how you see this opinion moving forward applying in other areas of policymaking that you do?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Well, look, I — I think that it’s kind of in the eye of the beholder.  Right?  When — when the HEROES Act says that the Secretary can waive or modify a provision, it seems to me that that is very clear about what the Secretary’s authorities are.  It is a broad grant of authority from Congress that was expecting the Secretary to be act- — acting in an emergency situation. 

There is also a very broad grant of authority in the Higher Education Act, which talks about the Secretary having the ability to settle or compromise debts. 

So, look, I — I think that even the Supreme Court would say that this doctrine is evolving.  It is something that was invented very recently.  And it has already changed, in our view, in this opinion, compared to the last opinion in which it came up.  So, we’ll need to keep an eye on it. 

But from where it stands now, we think that the settlement and compromise pathway — that Higher Education Act pathway that we talked about today is going to be a valid pathway that conforms with the — the major questions doctrine issue that the — the Supreme Court raised today.

Q    Do you see this doctrine continuing to be an obstacle to different goals that we have moving forward? 

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Well, it — it seems to be intended to place restrictions on what the executive branch can do in certain situations, even when, in our view, Congress speaks clearly about what the executive branch can and can’t do. 

So we have to take that at face value.  And as we evaluate the availability of certain administrative actions going forward, we’ll have to weigh how it would stand up against that new doctrine that the Supreme Court has issued. 

But again, we think that the pathway that we’re choosing here, the Higher Education Act, is available even with this doctrine in place.

Q    Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead. 

Q    Secretary Cardona, are you considering potentially raising the income threshold for those zero-dollar monthly payments on the IDRs?  Or is that $33,000 annual number set in stone henceforth?

SECRETARY CARDONA:  It is $33,000.  And I want to make it very clear to the folks who are paying attention to this that maybe don’t know the details of it: The income-driven repayment plan that we talked about today, SAVE — we’re calling it “SAVE” — will cut in half loan payments for undergraduate students. 

So think about the students that said, “I can’t go to college because I can’t afford the 600-, 700-dollar…” — those are going to be cut in half.  It’s going to open doors to higher education for the folks making less than $33,000, which is your question.  Their threshold — the threshold of payment is higher than the $33,000.  So if you’re making less than $33,000, you won’t have a payment.

Q    Is the IRS — or who’s going to be monitoring whether people are still making that number moving forward?

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Did you want to take that?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Sure.  Yeah, as part of the program, you have to submit your tax return.  So it monitors it on an annual basis.  And I think there’s actually an obligation that if your income changes significantly, you have to provide an update.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    From a practical perspective, the millions who’ve already applied to the program that now has been blocked, that — I noticed the President was encouraging people to still sign up.  So is the thinking that that could just be transferred to the new regulation once that’s set up?  Or how will that work?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Yeah — again, I know this is not particularly satisfying, but it is too early to say, because we haven’t completed the rulemaking process yet.  It is clearly the case that, you know, just a handful of days — I think maybe a little bit over a week — that the website was available, we had an incredible rush of interest.  You had 16 million people go to the website, fill out the form, and indicate that they were eligible for debt relief. 

You know, as the President’s remarks made clear today, he certainly feels for all of the 40 million borrowers but especially those 16 million who went through the process and got a notification saying you will — “You are going to get your debt relief,” only to have Republican officials and the Court step in and block that. 

But — but, no, it’s not — it’s too — it’s premature to say whether those people are necessarily going to be at the front of the line or anything like that in a new process.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So the —

Q    And for months, the White House had said they felt confident about the law being on their side.  But then also, of course, you guys were preparing different scenarios, as we’ve now learned.  So what were you bracing for today?  How surprised were you both about this outcome?  Or is this really what you expected, given some of the work that was put into the contingency?

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Look, let me read: The Secretary has the right to “waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision” in the form deemed appropriate by the Secretary to offset national emergency.

That was the legal authority. 

What I want to remind folks is we got a decision from SCOTUS.  I thought — I think it’s the wrong decision.  Forty-three million people were waiting for some relief, like some others have gotten in the form of PPP loan forgiveness.  That didn’t happen. 

Within hours, we started the regulatory process.  We’re not going to stop fighting.  This President has been very clear, the Vice President has been very clear: We’re going to put borrowers first; we’re going to put students first. 

And the President made — someone made reference to when the President asked folks to go online.  Public Service Loan Forgiveness went from 7,000 people from 2017 to 2021.  We’re at 600,000 people now in two years.

We’re fighting for students.  We’re fighting for access for higher education.  We’re going to continue to do that.  And we’re going to do tha- — we’re going to do that based on legal footing.  We recognize that this decision today, we had to read it very carefully to make sure we know which path we’re going to go forward. 

But the bottom line is: The President is going to continue to fight; we’re going to continue to fight.  Higher education should be accessible to more people.  And that’s what we’re going to be fighting for. 

Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  The Secretary has to go because he has to catch a flight.

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Yeah.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So I’m going to let him go.

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Bharat, do you mind staying for a couple more questions?  And then we’ll (inaudible).

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thank you so much.  Happy Fourth.

Q    Thank you.

SECRETARY CARDONA:  Thank you.  Have a good weekend.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right, we’ll take a couple more. 

Go ahead.

Q    Yes.  Thank you, Karine.  Question: The Democrats like to distinguish themselves as being different than Republicans in terms of this specific law, for example.  But really, neither side is doing anything about the runaway cost of higher education.  Nobody is really doing anything.  I mean, this relief doesn’t do anything for future students. 

So, is either party really any different?  Are you — are Democrats not just, essentially, as dishonest in their approach as they accuse the other side of being in terms of the impact that they would have on students going forward?  Neither — both — both parties are really beholden to the Wall Street beneficiaries of these runaway interest rates and these runaway debts.

What are Democrats willing to do about the runaway cost of education?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Sure.

Q    That really is at the heart of the matter.

MR. RAMAMURTI:  No, I think it’s a real problem.  That’s one of the reasons why when the President announced his plan last August, when he announced his debt relief plan, there was another key provision in there, which was a set of policy ideas about holding colleges accountable for raising prices. 

It was a set of reforms that we were putting in place to make sure exactly what you said: that colleges can’t get away with continuing to raise tuition costs for students so that the ability to go to — to go to college is out of reach for your typical middle-class family.

The Department of Education has already made progress in what’s called the gainful employment rule, which would restrict whether federal loans can be used at a particular school if they aren’t showing that people are graduating from that school and getting higher incomes when they graduate.    It’s a significant update to that rule that is going to hold colleges accountable for actually delivering on the promise of higher education for those students. 

And I would also note that the President was able to secure the single-largest increase in the Pell Grant that we’ve had in the history of this country so that people, like he said, who make, in almost every instance, under $60,000 a year — people from families making $60,000 a year or less — get that additional bump, which is going to open up the doors for higher education for them. 

So we’re trying to come at this from both ends.  We’re trying to help lower-income, middle-income families afford the cost of college by providing some direct relief, and we’re holding colleges accountable so they can’t keep raising prices while delivering poor outcomes for students.

Q    And a quick follow-up to that.  Republicans have offered to work —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Quick.  Quickly, please.  Quickly.

Q    Yeah, I’ll be very quick.

Republicans have offered to work with the President on measures to combat this — the actual cost of education.  Is the President willing to work with the Republicans on that?  Do you believe the Republicans are sincere?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Yeah, I — look, I think that the President has a long track record of working with Democrats and Republicans for getting things done for middle-class families.  He did it a number of times in the first two years in office.

If it comes to real, serious reforms to the cost of higher education that aren’t going to cut off pathways for middle-class families and where the costs of that aren’t being placed on middle-class families, then I think that the President is willing to work with anybody who has good ideas on that, in that regard.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Just a couple more and we got to let him go. 

Go ahead, Gerren. 

Q    Thanks, Karine.  The White House touted the student debt relief program as a tool to close the racial wealth gap.  Without it, does the White House believe that its economic policies can still achieve that goal and — or that these new actions can help achieve that goal?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Yeah, one of the many reasons why we’re continuing to pursue this alternative pathway is because the President feels very strongly that we need to take steps to close that racial wealth gap in America.  It — you’re right that the initial debt relief program would have made real strides in that — in that area.  And our goal with providing debt relief to borrowers — as many borrowers as we can, as quickly as we can — is to do that, as well. 

I mean, I don’t have to tell you, but I think we’ve — we’ve seen the data about the disparate impact of student loan debt — right? — that Black borrowers tend to have to borrow more often for going to school, that they have to borrow more because they tend to have less family wealth to rely upon, and it takes them longer to repay after they graduate because, again, they have less family wealth to rely upon. 

In fact, there’s data showing that many Black borrowers, in addition to having to repay their own loans because they had opportunity to go to college, are helping other people in their family pay off their debts.  Whereas for other types of borrowers, they’re getting family assistance to pay off their own loans. 

So there’s a really serious issue here.  That’s — it’s one of the many reasons why the President pursued this debt relief path and why he is continuing to pursue this alternative pathway now.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Great.  Ed, and then Phil.

Q    Yeah, thank you.  I wanted to get at that affordability issue.  So does the President then blame universities for that affordability issue?  And do you really think that that rule is working, that you talked about?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Well, the rule is still in progress.  It’s going to be proposed and then ultimately put in place.  But I think when it is in place, it’s definitely going to go after the — the worst performers in this space, the colleges and universities that are charging the most and delivering the worst results. 

I think other reforms are necessary.  The President is willing to work with Congress to talk through what those may be. 

But as we said, there’s another goal here, which is to ease some of that cost in the — in the meantime for lower-income and middle-income families who are trying to send their kids to school.  And that’s what the Pell Grant does. 

And I would just note that, not so long ago, the Pell Grant — typical Pell Grant covered about 75 percent of the cost of college.  Now it covers way less than half the cost of college.  It has been devalued over time, and that’s one of the reasons why the President has been aggressive about increasing the size of the Pell Grant.

Q    So the Department of Education has pre-approved 16 million people for the forgiveness program.  Was that meant to put political pressure on the court?  Because you knew that this was going through the court process.  You didn’t have a decision yet.  And were government resources then wasted on this?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  No, I think we explained to borrowers what the process is going to be: We’re going to set up this website; as soon as you send us your information, people behind the scenes at the Department are going to be working extremely quickly to validate your information and to decide whether you’re approved or not.  That’s exactly what we did. 

The court, unfortunately — the lower court in this case — stepped in before we could actually take that final step and actually discharge debt for approved borrowers.  But —

Q    But you took — you took those approvals when the court process was happening.  You didn’t have an answer.

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Right, but we didn’t know what — that the court was going to enjoin us from actually doing debt relief.  That was still an open question at the time.  We had an obligation to borrowers to keep moving with the process as long as we legally could. 

And I want to make one more point here, because the debt relief program was announced alongside, if you remember, a resumption in payments.  So we had a student loan pause in effect.  In August, the President announced that we were going to have this debt relief as a lead-in to student loan payments resuming in January of this year. 

And so, there was a time pressure on us to make sure that borrowers who were applying were getting their debt relief quickly, before they had that obligation to start making payments.  Because, of course, that discharged relief could mean that their payments would go down when they had to start pay — making payments again.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay, one more.  Go ahead, Phil.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  First, the other day, the President said that this is not a “normal” Court.  While the administration disagrees with this decision, does the administration think that it is legitimate?

And then, second, isn’t the comparison between student loans and the Paycheck Protection Program a little bit strained, given that some of those federal student loans were given with the expectation that they would be paid back, and then the Paycheck Protection Program loans were given to employers with the expectation that those loans would be forgiven if they kept folks on payroll during a pandemic?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Yeah, so on your first question, you know, we — we accept the Court’s ruling.  Of course, we disagree with it.  You know, we had a chance to review the dissent written by Justice Kagan.  We largely agree with the points that were made in the dissent. 

You know, in terms of the — the PPP analogy, I think that — that this is the — the big picture here: As the p- — as we went through the pandemic, there were a variety of programs put in place to help certain subsets of the population, and one of the biggest programs that was put in place was PPP.  That was intended to help small-business owners.  Right? 

And — and I think that we have gone through with those loan forgivenesses — as the — as the President has said: $780 billion worth of — of loan forgiveness.  But I think that the real hypocrisy, in his view, is that a lot of that loan forgiveness was happening over the last year, year and a half.  And at any time, all of the Republicans in Congress who are saying to us, “This debt relief program is unacceptable” could have also been saying, “Hey, take it easy on doing all this debt forgiveness.” 

You know, a lot of these small-business owners actually did really well in the pandemic.  Shouldn’t we take a second look at whether all of these loans should be forgiven?  They’re costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. 

And we never got a single bit of incoming from Republicans saying, “Slow down PPP forgiveness.”  In fact, the incoming we got was people saying, “Do it faster.  Make it easier for people to qualify for forgiveness.”

So, yeah, we think that there is a real tension between that and the idea that if we’re going to try and give $10,000 to a nurse or a firefighter, that that somehow is unacceptable or crosses the line in — from acceptable government relief to unacceptable government relief. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Ebony — Ebony, you have — you have the last question.  This is (inaudible) question. 

Q    Thank you.  You mentioned that there were a number of things that you were considering, but — but you said why you went with the two that — that you did.  My question is: If you don’t get the projected outcome that you want — which you s- — haven’t said what that number is — are there a number of other measures that you are considering, like other — whether it’s canceling some of the interest or looking at the PSLF, maybe changing even some of the en- — some of the jobs that would be required for that or any other measures if this doesn’t give you the desired outcome?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Yeah, I want to make clear that we’re moving out on multiple fronts.  Today, we announced two new steps.  Right?  We announced pursuing the Higher Education Act rulemaking process, and we announced the 12-month on-ramp to repayment.

The changes to — to Public Service Loan Forgiveness, they’re already taking place.  And as the Secretary pointed out, up until this administration, something like 7,000 people total had gotten Public Service Loan Forgiveness.  Even though you had teachers and members — service members who had met the requirements, they weren’t able to get their relief.

We have taken incredible steps to fix that program.  And now 600,000 people have gotten that relief.  So we’re moving out on the PSLF front. 

We’re moving out on the income-based repayment front.  Remember, this is going to me- — be a massive savings for a lot of borrowers.  Your typical borrower is saving $1,000 a year on their repayment. 

And, by the way, there are some changes in — in that program as well, such that if you are — have lower amounts of debt, like you went to a community college, you’re actually on a faster pathway to getting your loans forgiven, such that the typical community college student is going to get their loans forgiven within 10 years. 

So we’re — as Secretary Cardona said: There has never been a president and there has never been an administration that has come close to providing the support and relief for student loan borrowers that this administration has.  And we’re committed to doing that because student loan borrowers are the types of middle-class folks that this President thinks are really important to this economy doing well. 

To take it back to the question about Bidenomics: When we talk about growing the economy from the bottom up and the middle out, that’s what this relief program was about.  Ninety percent of it went to people making under $75,000 a year, and now that’s been ripped away. 

We’re not going to stand for that.  We’re not going to let that lie as it is.  We’re going to move forward on every other pathway we can to get those middle-class folks their relief.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Thank you, Bharat.

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Thanks. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Appreciate it.

Q    Can you give us the website again before you go?  I’m sorry.  The name of the website?

MR. RAMAMURTI:  For PSLF? 

Q    Just for the new relief that you’re onboarding.

MR. RAMAMURTI:  Oh.  So, if you go to StudentAid.gov, you will see FAQs about some of the steps that we’re taking. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Thank you, Bharat.

MR. RAMAMURTI:  All right.  Thanks.  Thanks, Karine. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Happy Fourth. 

MR. RAMAMURTI:  You too.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thank you so much.  All right. 

Q    Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Take a few more since it’s after five o’clock on a Friday.  (Laughter.)

Colleen.

Q    Why not?  Let’s keep going. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah, why not?  (Laughter.)

Q    Okay.  I have a question about the Court rulings this week.  So, if the — if the Supreme Court doesn’t reflect the views of the American people, like Biden has said, should he be embracing a proposal to change the Court?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, I just want to — as you know — and I talked about this a little bit during the gaggle yesterday, which was — you all were asking me about the — the commission that the President was very proud to put together.  It was diverse.  It had legal voices from the right, from the left.  And it was something that you had never seen before.  And it was incredibly important, the President thought, was — to do.

And obviously, he read the report.  Don’t have any — don’t have any decisions to — to lay out at this time.  So, certainly, I’m not going to get ahead of the President. 

I know people have asked about expanding the Court.  He’s been very clear: That’s not something that he wants to do, as it relates to that. 

Look, the President is — is — certainly has made himself very clear about how he sees these Court decision.  And the ra- — the reason why he said that is — it’s pretty clear — right? — when you think about the Dobbs decision, when you think about Roe v. Wade, this is something that was constitutional for almost 50 years — almost 50 years. 

And, you know, some of these decisions on these big kind of items that have been reversed were decided by both Republicans and Democrats.  Right?  And so that is — that is not the norm when you reverse something that was almost 50 years. 

You think about affirmative action, also — and the President said this yesterday — decades — decades, again, decided by Republicans and Democrats.  And so that has been reversed. 

So, you know, I — I’m not going to go beyond what the President said.  But if you lay that out, that’s pretty clear.  And this is also a president that was the chair of the Judiciary Committee — right? — when he was se- — when he was a senator — right? — who was able — who understands this process, respects this process, is an expert in this process. 

So when you have someone with — like the President, who has this experience, and says that, you know, he’s not saying it because it’s a feeling; he’s saying it because he has seen this over and over a year — over and over — over the decades and how Supreme Court have acted and how they’ve taken action. 

And so, you know, don’t have anything beyond what the President said yesterday and what he has said many times about when he’s been asked directly about the Court.  But it’s — you know, I’ll lay it out for the American people, and they can see themselves and — and make their decisions for themselves.

Q    Thank you so much, Karine.  I have two questions.  I wanted to follow up a little bit on that.  These decisions of the Supreme Court here have begi- — big repercussions in other countries.  Some are assessing implications on their own societies.  So do you have any message to those countries watching what is taking place here?

Any — on yesterday, the President commented that “this is not a normal Court.”

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Mm-hmm.

Q    Does he have any solution for that?  What is — what can he do?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, one of the things that the President has done since the beginning of this administration is make sure that he put nominees forward in the judicial — when you think about judicial level — right? — the federal court — that are — that is diverse.  He’s gotten 136 people through, nominees through.  And we’re talking about diverse candidates that reflect — and you heard — you hear this over and over from us, right?  We want an administration, that includes the court, that looks like America.  And that’s what this President has done. 

And I think that’s an action that he has been very deliberate about, very — very methodical about so that we can have a court system that is reflective, a court system that is fair, a court system that is diverse.  And so that is an action that he has taken, again, almost from day one. 

Q    Another — and another question about the news — breaking news today.  Today, the Brazil Electoral Court voted to ban former President Bolsonaro from running for office for eight years because of his election fraud claim.  I wonder if you guys have any reaction to that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, obviously, we’ve seen the reports.  I’m just — don’t have a comment at this time.

Go ahead.

Q    House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul released a statement a couple of minutes ago criticizing the administration for only releasing 24 of the 87 pages of the Afghanistan after-action report, and saying, “This is another blatant attempt to hide the Biden administration’s culpability in the chaotic and deadly evacuation from Afghanistan.”  Do you have a response to that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, yeah, a couple of things.  I have not seen his statement, since you just said it happened a couple of minutes ago.  So I want to be mindful.  I don’t like to respond to things I haven’t seen. 

But first, I would say I would refer you to the State Department.  They released this — this resport [sic] — this report.  So any specific questions that you have, certainly would refer you there. 

But more broadly, on the transparency question: Look, this administration has consistently provided updates, information on the withdrawal from Afghanistan.  We have provided that information.  Anytime that we have been asked, we have done so. 

And a couple of examples is thousands of pages of documents — thousands of pages of documents and analysis, spreadsheets, and written responses to questions that we have received, that we have gotten from the committee, from — from Congress; hundreds of briefings to bipartisan members and staff, public congressional testimony that many of you have covered and — and talked about.  These have been done by senior officials. 

So when you look at those — and that’s just the facts.  That’s the data that tells you how transparent and how responsive this administration has been.  Anything related to the release from the State Department, any specifics, I certainly would refer you to them. 

Q    But amid criticism from Republicans that the administration has tried to downplay its culpability in the evacuation mayhem and the things that went wrong as the U.S. was pulling out, what message does it send to release this long-anticipated report on a Friday on a heavy news day ahead of a holiday weekend?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, again, that is a State Department decision, so I would have to refer you to them.  But your first question — your first part of the question — right? — we were — you were talking about transparency.  I just laid out thousands of pages of documents, just laying it out.  Analysis, just laying it out.  Spreadsheets, just laying it out.  Responses to questions.  We’re —

Q    So you disagree with the premise?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, I disagree with the premise, but I’m also laying out what we’ve actually done.  Right?  We’ve actually laid out and have conversation.  You’ve seen senior officials take questions — tough questions — in a bipartisan way on this issue.  And we’ve — we have delivered on hundreds and hundreds — thousands — pardon me — of pages of information.  Hundreds of briefings. 

So that’s being transparent.  That’s being there and answering and taking those tough questions. 

And so, yeah, I disagree with the premise — the premise of the question, but, again, I just laid out the facts for you.  And it’s been there; it’s for all of you to see.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Can you — just on the report, has the President reviewed it or been briefed on it?  He was just asked about it in the Roosevelt Room, and he said, “Read your press.”  And I wasn’t really clear what he was trying to say there.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, I didn’t — I didn’t hear — I know that he was asked about the — about this particular review or this action — after-action review that was given.

Look, what I can speak to is more broadly what the President has said.  And I think this is what he was referring to: He had to make a tough decision.  Right?  In the beginning of his administration, he had to make a tough decision on what to do with the nation’s — with the nation’s longest war — right? — where we were seeing, you know, billions of dollars go into a war that had no end in sight, where our — our members of the military were put at risk. 

And so, he wanted to stop that.  He wanted to end that.  And he also wanted to — and this is part of what he said at the end, which is he wanted to make sure that we remain vigilant against terrorism.  And that’s what he was laying out — right? — the threats that they were — that have been demonstrated. 

And so, we took — as you know, we took a leader of al Qaeda without having any troops — any troops on the ground.  And so, that’s what he was talking about is keeping our promise, making sure that we keep Americans safe, making sure that we make sure that we put the American people’s interests first.  And so that’s what you have seen this President do. 

Q    The report specifically says that senior administration officials were to blame for the chaotic exit; for failing to decide which Afghans should be elible [sic] — eligible for evacuation; and for issuing changing guidance. 

Do you agree with the report?  Do you accept responsibility for this chaos?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Look, what I am — the report came from the State Department.  It’s an action — after-action report.  I will just let it speak for itself.  I’m just not going to comment further.  This is a State Department report.  Clearly, it is part of the administration.  If that’s what it lays out, that’s what it lays out.

Go ahead.

Q    Can you explain why — what he means by —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.  Go ahead. 

Q    — he said, “We’d get help from the Taliban,” Karine?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

Q    You had the Supreme Court ruling yesterday on college admissions, the rulings today.  Two things.  How do you view this as a whole?  How big a setback is this to the President’s agenda?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I mean, look, the President has been really clear.  You heard from the Secretary, you heard from the President.  We’re going to continue to fight.  We think the Supreme Court got it wrong.  We’ve been very clear about that.

This is — you know, when you think more broadly about, especially student loan, the student debt relief and what the President put forward, this is part of a little bit of what Bharat was talking about.  This is part of Biden- — Bidenomics.  Right?  This is part of what the President has been trying to do for the last two years, which is give the American people a little bit more relief. 

And you see that it has worked.  When you think about 13 million jobs created.  When you think about an unemployment rate at below 4 percent.  These are the things, because of the actions that this President has taken, has worked.  And it started with the American Rescue Plan.  You saw the bipartisan infrastructure legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act.  And the student debt relief is all part of that.

There are real people across the country who are still suffering, who need a little bit of help. 

You know, when — when the Secretary started, he gave a very passionate intro about who — who would have been benefited from this debt relief, and it is 90 percent — right? — 90 percent of the people in that plan, who make $75,000 or less, would have benefited.  And the President talked about this, too.  Why would we not want to give relief to those people? 

And it is unfortunate that Republicans think the — that — that they don’t need relief.  And it’s — we’re talking about people in their own district. 

And so that is what is truly disappointing about that, but it’s not going to set us back.  It’s — it’s a setback for the moment, but it’s not going to set back to the pro- — the President’s broader plan and how he sees building the economy, not leaving anybody behind and not doing a trickle — a trickle-down, but actually doing it with a — with building out the middle — to building up the middle class and doing it from the bottom up.  And that’s the President’s commitment to this.

Go ahead.

Q    Today —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I see, Colleen is — Colleen is near — at the edge of her seat. 

Go ahead.

Q    Sorry. 

Q    Today is the deadline that the President set back in December for the national archivist to release the remaining records about JFK’s assassination.  Has the President been updated about the progress?  What is the remaining number of records that will remain classified?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah, so I do have an update for you.  As part of the Biden-Harris administration’s continued commitment to government transparency, accountability, the President — President Biden issued a memorandum today concluding the review of records from the President John — from President John F.  Kennedy assassination records collection. 

Under President Biden’s leadership agencies have fully declassified over 16,000 records since 2021.  This action reflects his instruction that all information related to President Kennedy’s assassination should be released, except when the strongest possible reasons council otherwise. 

As a result, over 99 percent of the records in the collection are now publicly available at the National Archives.  In keeping with the President’s direction, the National Archives will be digitizing the entire collection to make it more accessible to the public. 

Any — any other specifics or any additional information, I certainly will refer you to the National Archives to have a — to answer any additional questions on this. 

But that was done today. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  On 303 Creative, what is an “expressive original design”? 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Say that one more time.

Q    Do you feel like you have a sense — a clearer sense of who this actually impacts — this decision today?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I mean, I don’t have like a number or a list of who — of who this is going to impact.

What we know and understand is this was — this was a — the wrong decision.  This was incredibly disappointing that decision was made.  It’s certainly going to impact for sure the LGBTQ+ community.  It opens up — it opens up an entry — a pathway for — for that community to be even more discriminated upon. 

And so, after you’ve seen this type of, you know, statehouse session where we see more than 600 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, including a few hundred that go after trans kids and their parents, it is incredibly disappointing.  It is incredibly disappointing. 

This is a vulnerable community, along with others, that have been under attack — under attack.  And so the President — you saw the President’s statement.  He’s been very clear about this.  We do have our concerns.  And we certainly are going to call it out. 

We have said very — I said very clearly that we’re going to continue to push for the Equality Act, which we think is incredibly important that Congress should act on that.  And so, look, we’re going to do everything that we can to protect these vulnerable communities, as the President has been doing since day one.

Q    Got it.  But the Court tries to distinguish in its decision — the Gorsuch’s decision — between a service and a —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah.

Q    — an expressive design.  And I’m just trying to get a sense of if you —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No —

Q    — feel like you understand that distinction?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I hear you.  I’m just not going to get into specifics. 

More broadly, this is a problem.  Right?  This is clear discrimina- — this is going to — clearly opened another avenue, another door to discriminating against a vulnerable community.  And so, the President is going to continue to enforce federal anti-discrimination protections, and he’s going to call on Congress to move forward with the Equality Act. 

And that’s what I think the American people need to hear.  That’s what the community need to hear, that we’re going to do everything that we can to protect them. 

All right, I’m going to take one last question, and try and call somebody I haven’t called on. 

(Cross-talk.)

Q    Karine, can we clarify about Afghanistan, please? 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I mean, I don’t have anything else to add on Afghanistan.

Q    Can you just explain what the President said when he said, “I said we’d” —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I just — I —

Q    — “get help from the Taliban”?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I literally just — I literally just answered that question to your colleague.  I’m trying to explain to you where I thought he was coming from.  I literally just went into that.

(Cross-talk.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  Go ahead. 

Q    Hi.  Just a follow-up and another question after that.  A follow-up to the discussion about the racial wealth gap and the burden of student loan debt on African Americans, especially Black women.  The United Negro College Fund is asking for the Pell Grants to be doubled, because students at historically Black colleges and universities qualify for that nearly — nearly three out of four of them qualify for that.  Is this something the administration is willing to push Congress to do?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, I think that’s a little bit of what Bharat was saying, when he was up here, what the President has done.  He — he did expand the Pell Grant, right?  Remember, he was talking about it used to cover about 50 percent or more and now it’s lost — it’s gotten devalued.  And so, one of the things that the President did very early on is to expand the Pell Grant, and especially for African American communities and communities that really need that extra help.  And so, that is something that we have done. 

And look, I’m not going to — not going to talk specifically about other things that we’re going to do outside of the plan that the President announced, outside of the — the — the details that both the Secretary and — and also Bharat spoke to, but this is something we understand the — the inequalities — right? — that we see in the — in this country that still exist.  The President talked about that in his remarks on affirmative action.  This is a real thing that communities have to deal with. 

And so, this is a President — everything that he has done, every policy, especially as we talk about the economy, at the center of that has always been equity, always been equality, making sure we leave no one behind and we build an economy that — that is different, that is not trickle-down economics, that is something that we build from the bottom up, middle out.  And we — and also expand in the middle class.  And that’s something that the President’s going to continue to do. 

All right, everybody. 

Q    And the — oh, and the second question.  The second question.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah.  What’s your second question?

Q    The President has blamed Republicans for doing everything in their power to block the student loan forgiveness program, but this was ultimately the Supreme Court’s decision.  Why the blame on Republicans?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, the Republicans — during the budget negotiations, as you all know, they tried to strip — they tried to take away — that was something that they wanted to put on the chopping blocks was the student debt relief.  They were very clear about that. 

And so, what the President did was protect it, and that was something that he — he fought just a couple of months ago.  And he’s been fighting for this since he announced the student debt relief plan. 

So, yes, Republicans have been wanting to get rid of this plan.  Again, something — this is a plan that’s going to give relief to 90 percent of — of the folks who make less than $75,000.  Why would we not want to offer that up — that relief to people who truly, truly need it, especially after going through what folks have gone through the last three years: this pandemic that has hurt so many families?

And so, you know, that’s just the fact.  That’s what we had to fight for. 

Now, we do think the Supreme Court got it wrong.  And it is unfortunate, which is why we came up with a plan B.  And we’re going to execute on that plan. 

Thanks, everybody.  Happy Fourth. 

5:28 P.M. EDT

Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2023/06/30/press-briefing-by-press-secretary-karine-jean-pierre-secretary-of-education-miguel-cardona-and-deputy-director-of-the-national-economic-council-bharat-ramamurti/

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