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Senate Overturns DeVos Rule Limiting Debt Relief for Defrauded Students

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  • The Senate has voted to overturn a Trump administration rule that would make it harder for students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges to have their loans forgiven or reduced. 
  • Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ changes require applicants to individually prove a school knowingly misled them and that they were financially harmed by the deception, among other difficult measures aimed at limiting who gets assistance. 
  • The legislation will now go to President Donald Trump’s desk for him to decide whether or not to uphold the rule with a veto or side with Congress against his own education secretary.

What Is DeVos’ Rule? 

The Senate voted Wednesday to overturn a Trump administration rule that would limit debt relief for students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges. 

In a 53-42 vote, 10 Republicans joined Democrats to pass the resolution, which has already been approved by the House. This decision is a bipartisan rebuke of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ rule, aimed at weakening an Obama-era policy. 

The Obama-era-updated “borrower defense” rule allowed for students who attended schools that committed serious fraud to request that their loan debt be forgiven. It was meant to regulate the for-profit sector and protect students whose colleges engaged in misconduct. It was updated in the wake of the collapse of schools like ITT Tech and Corinthian. 

But DeVos made changes that raised the bar for borrowers’ relief claims. Her adjustments made it so that applicants had to individually prove a school knowingly misled them and that they were financially harmed by the deception. It also set a three-year deadline on claims.

According to the New York Times, the education department later adopted a complicated formula for calculating relief that limits nearly all applicants to only partial relief and required the majority to repay most of their loans. 

Arguments For and Against It 

The rule change is scheduled to take effect in July and the Education Department argues that it protects community colleges, historically back colleges, and taxpayers “from undue harm from the poorly written Obama-era regulation.”

DeVos has slammed the debt-relief system as a “free money” giveaway and told members of Congress last year that her rule would protect taxpayers from people trying to scam the system by applying for debt relief when they suffered no harm. At the time, she said those students who were defrauded would still be eligible for loan forgiveness. 

But critics of the rule said this would effectively kill the department’s loan forgiveness program by setting requirements that almost no borrowers would be able to meet. “The burden of proof for these students is so absurdly unrealistic,” said Representative Susie Lee, Democrat of Nevada, who sponsored a companion resolution in the House.

“We don’t believe your life should be ruined because some school lied to you about the education they were promising, the loans you were taking out. We believe that you deserve a second chance in life,” said Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who sponsored the legislation.

Democrats also stressed that the original loan forgiveness law, which has been around since 1995, was rarely used until for-profit chains started falling apart in 2014. 

So far, the Education Department has approved 51,000 loan-relief applications. Nearly all of them were approved during the Obama administration and the department has eliminated some $535 million in debt. Under DeVos, the department stopped processing the applications while the rewrite was challenged in court. There are currently about 170,000 pending applications.

The American Legion and dozens of other veterans groups also backed the effort to overturn the rewritten rules. The focus on veterans attracted much Republican support because veterans have long been targetted with predatory recruitment tactics thanks to their lucrative G.I. Bill benefits. 

The benefits are particularly attractive to for-profit schools because federal law requires those schools to obtain at least 10% of their revenue from sources other than Education Department-backed student loans.

Trump Has Veto Power 

After the decision, Department of Education spokeswoman Angela Morabito said, “It’s disappointing to see so many in Congress fooled by misinformation from the Left and the fake news narrative about our efforts to protect students from fraud.” 

“Students, including veterans, who are defrauded by their school and suffer financial harm as a result deserve relief, and our rule provides them relief,” she added.

The legislation will now go to President Donald Trump’s desk for him to decide whether or not to uphold the rule with a veto or side with Congress against his own education secretary. The White House has already threatened a veto but several outlets reported that Trump told Senate Republicans on Tuesday that he is “neutral” on repealing the rule.

“I have sort of a neutral position,” Trump allegedly said according to people in the room. “I’m in between.”

The White House did not dispute those reports but instead pointed to a statement from the administration released in February. That statement said Trump’s advisors would recommend he veto the resolution and defended DeVos’ plan, saying it “restores due process, the rule of law and student choice.”

A source close to the president told The New York Times that DeVos called Trump after his “neutral” comment. They said Trump supports finding a solution to the loan problem but doesn’t feel strongly about DeVos’ approach. However, Politico reported that after speaking over the phone, Trump indicated that he would vote in favor of DeVos’ regulations. 

So at this time, it’s unclear what Trump will decide, but a veto wouldn’t be unlikely. At a news conference on the resolution Wednesday, Durbin said he will work hard to get the votes needed for a veto override if the president rejects the measure.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Politico) 


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Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
  • By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
  • Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

Rick Snyder Charges

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.

The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.

He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.

The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.

Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.

His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.

8 Others Charged

Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.

Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:

  • Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
  • Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
  • Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.

Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.

At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)

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Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack

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  • At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 
  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
  • Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 

Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus. 

On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one. 

Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested. 

More Cases Follow

Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions. 

Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote. 

“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added. 

“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown. 

“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.

Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks. 

Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (NBC Chicago)

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Joe Biden Reportedly Frustrated With His Pick To Handle COVID-19 Vaccine Roll Out

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  • President-Elect Joe Biden has promised to give 100 million Americans the COVID-19 vaccine in the 100 days following his Inauguration.
  • Beyond logistical and administrative concerns that saw the Trump administration only giving out 6.7 million vaccines over a month, a Politico report states Biden lacks confidence in his Covid coordinator, Jeff Zients.
  • Reportedly, Zients and his deputy often give Biden a big-picture idea of how they will handle the vaccination efforts. The President-elect, however, wants specific details about how exactly they plan on ramping up vaccination efforts.
  • Even if Zients is the man for the job, there are still concerns about Biden keeping General Gustave Perna in his role as chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, despite his failure to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of December as promised.

Steep Hill To Climb

When President-Elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20, a timer starts on his promise to give 100 million Americans the COVID-19 vaccine in 100 days.

The Trump administration made a similar promise in December when it promised 20 million vaccinations by the end of the month. It only managed 2.6 million. As of January 8, only 6.7 million Americans have been vaccinated.

Many of the current issues that are plaguing Trump’s vaccination effort are likely to continue into the Biden administration. For one, sending out millions of vaccines is a logistical nightmare. On top of that, it’s the states, not the federal government, that often control the practical implementation of vaccinations.

Currently, many states are struggling with vaccinations. For example, in Florida, seniors – who are the first in line for a vaccine in the state – have found that the distribution has been chaotic and unorganized.

To tackle the issue, Biden has appointed Jeff Zients, known as President Barack Obama’s “problem fixer,” to be his Covid coordinator. However, a Politico report says Biden is frustrated with how Zients is handling the situation.

With his business background, Zients and his deputy, Natalie Quillian, often give the President-elect a big-picture idea of how they will handle the vaccination efforts. However, the President-elect, as a long-time government official, wants specific details of how exactly they plan on ramping up vaccination efforts ten-fold.

That is all behind-the-scenes reports because officially, Zients has the support of Biden. His transition spokesman reiterated this to reporters, saying, “Jeff Zients is the right person for the job and wakes up every day focused on how to vaccinate every single American as quickly as possible, and the President-elect has full confidence in the plan he and his team are putting forward to get that done.” 

Trump Officials Continuing Role Into Biden Administration

Even if Zients is the man for the job, there are still concerns about Trump officials being kept in charge. Biden has decided to keep General Gustave Perna in his role as chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed. 

Perna is the official who promised 20 million vaccinations by the end of December 2020 and barely got 2.6 million out.

At the same time, Perna has on-the-job experience. Losing that could put the incoming administration even further behind their plans. Although, failing to get 100-million vaccines in 100-days may not actually be a failure.

In fact, it’s been pointed out that the goal helps states have an idea of Biden’s expectations and will pressure them to more quickly roll-out vaccinations.

Cases are constantly increasing in the U.S., and hospitals are largely unable to handle the number of incoming patients. The country has had 22.5 million cases of COVID-10 and over 374,000 deaths, making it the leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020.

See What Others Are Saying: (Politico) (CNN) (NPR)

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