Can Joe Biden forgive student debt without Congress? Here’s what the experts say

It’s a pressing question not just for higher-education experts and legal wonks. Tens of millions of Americans have a lot riding on the answer: Can the president forgive student debt without Congress? If the president was able to cancel student debt without passing legislation, in theory borrowers could see their balances reduced or eliminated overnight. On the other hand, the chances of Congress agreeing to forgive the loans is, at best, uncertain. Generally, Republicans are not in favor of debt forgiveness. For now, it’s also an open question if President-elect Joe Biden has interest in testing his presidential power in this way…During the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren vowed to forgive student loans in the first days of her administration, including with her announcement an analysis written by three legal experts, based at the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, who described such a move as “lawful and permissible.” Biden, however, has not gone as far…CNBC asked Toby Merrill, founder and director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, how she’d explain to a 15-year-old why she believes it’s within the president’s power to do so. “The Constitution gave Congress the authority to control property of the government, like debts owed to it,” she wrote. And Congress, Merrill said, granted the Secretary of Education, who works for the president, “the specific and unrestricted authority to create and to cancel or modify debt owed under federal student loan programs.”

Sound On: Trump Election Strategy, Biden Transition (Podcast)

Bloomberg Chief Washington Correspondent Kevin Cirilli delivers insight and analysis on the latest headlines from the White House and Capitol Hill, including conversations with influential lawmakers and key figures in politics and policy. Bloomberg’s June Grasso served as guest host. She was joined by Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School and founder of Equal Citizens, Jennifer Rie, Bloomberg Intelligence Senior Antitrust Litigation Analyst, John Sitilides, Geopolitical strategist at Trilogy Advisors and diplomacy consultant to the State Dept, and Kevin Walling, Democratic Strategist at HG Creative media.

Reining in growing powers of the presidency

Both Republicans and Democrats have voiced concerns over the past few decades about the expansion of presidential powers — some of it ceded by Congress looking for political cover, much of it a result of White House legal interpretations of constitutional gray areas. The balance of power now tilts in favor of the Oval Office, but since President Richard Nixon leaders have held themselves largely in check, respecting long-established informal rules and norms. Then came President Trump…In a new book, “After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency,” attorneys Bob Bauer ’73 and Jack L. Goldsmith, veterans of Democratic and Republican White Houses, respectively, propose what they say are long-overdue reforms to the Office of the President that can rein in future presidents who try to exploit the position for their political or personal benefit. Goldsmith, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, served as assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel during the George W. Bush administration. He writes frequently about national security, government, and politics, and is a founding editor of Lawfare. Bauer, a longtime legal adviser to President Barack Obama who is now advising the Biden campaign, is widely regarded as a leading authority on executive branch powers. He served as White House counsel from 2008 to 2011 and is now a professor of the practice and distinguished scholar in residence at NYU Law.

Trump’s climate legacy, Biden’s environmental future

The Trump administration rolled back over 125 environmental rules during their tenure. These policies protected wildlife and water, and regulated chemicals and greenhouse gases. This hour, we’ll discuss Trump’s environmental and climate legacy. We’ll also look at President-elect Biden’s climate plans and discuss what actions he can take (with or without a democratic Senate) to protect the environment, address our energy needs, and tackle global warming. Joining us are Michael Mann, professor and director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, and Jody Freeman, director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard University.

Trump undercuts American democracy as he clings to power

President Donald Trump is trying to steal a free and fair election that he lost by a wide margin to President-elect Joe Biden by tearing at the most basic principle of American democracy: He’s trying to throw out hundreds of thousands of votes. Trump’s latest escalation of his attempt to subvert the result of the election followed a string of knock-backs in the courts and after a statewide audit in Georgia confirmed Biden’s victory in the crucial swing state. He asked state Republican leaders in Michigan to visit him Friday, hinting at a possible attempt to convince them to ignore Biden’s big win in the state and send a slate of electors to the Electoral College that backs him and not the President-elect… Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School, said Michigan lawmakers visiting the White House on Friday could be walking into an illegal meeting. “I am worried that any lawmakers who attend this ridiculous meet and greet are really attending a conspiratorial meeting to steal the election,” Tribe told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “There’s no question that the meeting that is being held is illegal. There is no question that it really is designed quite corruptly to take away people’s right to vote.” Tribe says the Trump campaign has lost more than two dozen lawsuits.
“It’s quite clear that Republican, as well as Democratic judges, are going to follow the law when there is no ambiguity,” Tribe said. “The only guy who seems to be uninterested in the law is Rudy Giuliani, and God knows what he is auditioning for.”

State legislatures do not have the power to veto the people’s choice in an election

An op-ed by Lawrence LessigThe conservative radio talk show host Mark Levin has tweeted an all caps call for state legislatures to “get ready to do your constitutional duty.” Levin believes they have “the final say” on which slate of presidential electors gets to vote in the Electoral College. Under this theory, even if more people in a state voted for Democrat Joe Biden, their legislature would still have the power to pick a slate of Donald Trump electors. In other words, the Republican legislatures in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin could all now select a slate of electors for Trump. Needless to say, Levin’s theory has been embraced by many who continue to believe it can give Trump a second term. Levin is wrong about the power of state legislatures. But he’s not making his theory up out of whole cloth. There’s a kernel of truth to Levin’s theory. And it’s important to understand why that truth does not mean that legislatures have the power to do something that no legislature has ever done  —  to veto the results of a popular election and pick a slate of electors for the loser in that popular election. Levin grounds his claim on the part of the Constitution that gives legislatures the power to select the “manner” by which presidential electors are appointed. In Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court interpreted that power to mean that the legislature could vest the selection of electors in the people — through a popular election — but that it could “take back” that power “at any time.” On Levin’s reading, “at any time” includes after an election. So that after an election, the legislature could say, “Thanks for your input, but we’re going a different way.”

Michigan Canvassers Try To Rescind Votes Certifying Biden Win After Trump Calls Them

Two Republican canvassers in Michigan’s largest county are attempting to rescind their votes certifying that Joe Biden won there after President Donald Trump personally called them, The Associated Press reported. Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, who represent half of the four-member Wayne County canvassing board, initially refused to certify the election results on Tuesday ― an unprecedented move ― despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud. They quickly backtracked, voting later that day to certify the results. Trump reportedly reached out to Palmer and Hartmann later that night after the board certified the results. Now, the two GOP canvassers say they want to rescind their votes. The president’s decision to call them and the canvassers efforts to walk back their votes drew swift backlash from some election and law experts, who raised questions regarding the legality and ethics of it all…Deepak Gupta, a lawyer and Harvard Law School lecturer, called Trump’s actions “truly shocking.” … Biden won nearly 70% of the votes in Wayne County, a Democratic stronghold that includes Detroit. But Trump and his allies have falsely declared victory in the state. Trump has baselessly claimed there was widespread voter fraud in Detroit, alleging Wednesday that there were “FAR MORE VOTES THAN PEOPLE” in the city. (That’s false: More than 670,000 people live in Detroit. The city said a little more than 250,000 ballots were cast there.) Palmer and Hartmann have said they decided to vote in favor of certification after facing backlash and accusations of being racist over their initial opposition.

Kamala Harris and the Noble Path of the Prosecutor

An op-ed by Jeannie Suk GersenIn the opening of her memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” from 2019, Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris writes that, as a law student, she found her “calling” while interning at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, in Oakland, California, in 1988. Harris then spent nearly three decades in law enforcement, referring to herself as “top cop,” rising from local prosecutor to district attorney of San Francisco and then attorney general of California—the first woman and the first Black person in these jobs—until she joined the U.S. Senate, in 2017. When I was in law school, twenty years ago, prosecution was a form of public service that was thought to carry little controversial baggage. Marked as neither liberal nor conservative, it was also an all-purpose route for young people who aspired to political or judicial positions. In recent decades, former prosecutors have been ubiquitous in public life. President Bill Clinton and multiple Presidential nominees and candidates—John Kerry and Chris Christie, for example—were once prosecutors. So were New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and several dozen members of Congress, including Senators Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Richard Blumenthal, Doug Jones, and Josh Hawley. Countless federal judges have been prosecutors, among them Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel Alito, and also President Barack Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, whose prosecution of Timothy McVeigh, for the Oklahoma City bombing, in 1995, was soon followed by President Clinton’s nomination of Garland to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Can-Do Power

An op-ed by Samantha PowerEver since then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright memorably called the United States “indispensable” more than two decades ago, both Americans and publics abroad have vigorously debated the proposition. Today, as President Donald Trump’s term comes to a close, foreign observers of the United States are more prone to use a different word: “incompetent.” The Trump administration’s response to the most urgent problem in the world today—the coronavirus pandemic—has been worse than that of any other nation. This, in turn, has understandably tarnished perceptions of the United States: according to recent Pew Research Center polling conducted in 13 major economic powers, a median of 84 percent of respondents agreed that the United States has done a poor job of handling COVID-19—by far the most damning appraisal received by any major country or institution. Yet the mishandling of the pandemic is just the latest in a string of lapses in basic competence that have called into question U.S. capabilities among both long-standing allies and countries whose partnership Washington may seek in the years to come. A brand once synonymous with the world-changing creations of Steve Jobs, with feats of strength and ingenuity such as the Berlin airlift and the moon landing, and with the opportunity represented by the Statue of Liberty now projects chaos, polarization, and dysfunction.

Jack Goldsmith on why fears of a Trump coup are nonsense

An op-ed by Jack Goldsmith: Long before Donald Trump became president it was widely believed that he would spark a “constitutional crisis” if elected. And during his term in office there were panicked claims that he was just on the verge of destroying the American constitutional order: when Mr Trump threatened to defy judicial orders related to the Muslim ban, and to fire or stop Special Counsel Robert Mueller; and when he made absolutist executive-power claims in defying congressional subpoenas for his tax returns and urged prosecution of his political enemies. In these and many other contexts, Mr Trump’s verbal assaults and threats, incessant norm-defiance and claims of absolute power provoked four years of vertiginous panic. Mr Trump was so discombobulating that relatively few noticed that these and many other worst-case scenarios never played out. Mr Trump has left enormous damage in his wake—to the psyche of many Americans, to many institutions of American democracy and to beaten-down citizens’ confidence in these institutions. There is much repair work to be done. Yet the most remarkable fact about his presidency is how well the American constitutional system stood up to and survived it. This was true, most importantly, in the recent presidential election. Hundreds of stories and reports warned about foreign hacking, domestic and foreign disinformation, violence, insecure voting machines, voter suppression and pandemic-related problems. Yet more Americans than ever (approximately 150m) voted for president. And the election “was the most secure in American history,” according to federal election infrastructure experts.