Joe Biden Can't Cancel Federal Student Debt, Nancy Pelosi Says

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that President Joe Biden does not have the power to cancel federal student debt, in comments likely to spark further debate on the issue among Democrats.

Pelosi made the remarks at a news conference on Wednesday and argued that student loan forgiveness could only be implemented through an act of Congress and not executive action by the president.

Her comments put her at odds with other Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has urged Biden to act on student debt and said the president has the necessary power.

Asked about student debt cancellation, Pelosi said: "The president can't do it."

"That's not even a discussion," she said.

"People think that the President of the United States has the power for debt forgiveness. He does not," Pelosi went on.

"He can postpone, he can delay, but he does not have that power. That has to be an act of Congress."

The Education Department, under the Biden administration, has so far erased about $1.5 billion in student loan debt for more than 90,000 students, who were victims of for-profit college fraud.

That, however, is separate to the debate about whether or not the president can legally cancel student loan debt—$1.7 trillion issue—through executive order.

During his presidential campaign, Biden backed calls for an "immediate $10,000 forgiveness [per borrower] of student loans."

Some Democrats, including Schumer and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have argued Biden should cancel up to $50,000 in debt for all federal student loan borrowers and that he has the power to do so.

In April, White House chief of staff Ron Klain said the president had asked the Department of Education to prepare a memo explaining the president's power to eliminate student debt by executive action. No memo on the matter has yet been made public.

Pelosi suggested on Wednesday that student loan forgiveness might not be fair on those who didn't benefit from it.

"Suppose your [...] child just decided at this time they [do] not want to go to college, but you're paying taxes to forgive somebody else's obligations. You may not be happy about that," Pelosi said.

On Tuesday, Schumer, Warren and Representative Ayanna Pressley held a press conference calling on Biden to extend the pause on student debt repayments and revisited the issue of debt cancellation.

"To make borrowers repay their debts now would be unfair, would be harsh and in many instances would be cruel," Schumer said. "People were thrown off their stride by COVID. Give them a chance to recover."

In an op-ed for USA Today on Tuesday, Schumer and Natalia Abrams, executive director of the nonprofit group Student Debt Crisis, wrote: "With the stroke of a pen, he [Biden] can follow through on his promise and bring life-changing relief for tens of millions of Americans struggling with student loan debt."

Newsweek has asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House for comment.

Pelosi Gives Her Weekly Press Conference
U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. Pelosi said President Joe Biden does not have the power to cancel student debt. Alex Wong/Getty Images