By Mary Ellen Flannery / Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS
After more than 1,200 days in office, President Donald Trump issued his first presidential veto of domestic legislation last week.
The legislation that provoked his unique ire? A bipartisan resolution, passed by the House and Senate this spring, that would have helped low-income Americans, including many military veterans, to restart their lives after being defrauded by predatory for-profit colleges.
With his rare veto, Trump opted to stand with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and against three dozen veterans’ groups that had urged him to support their access to student loan forgiveness.
In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had sent Trump the bipartisan resolution to sign, called his veto “an act of staggering cruelty.”
The bipartisan resolution that Trump vetoed was Congress’ effort to stop DeVos’ September 2019 revision of the federal Borrower Defense of Repayment rule. This 30-year-old federal rule enables students who have been defrauded by for-profit colleges to get relief from the federal government in the form of student loan cancellation or forgiveness.
Because of their access to G.I. Bill benefits, which they gain through service to their country, many of the defrauded students are military veterans, who unfortunately have been seen as cash cows by predatory, for-profit colleges.
“President Trump’s veto of my bipartisan bill to help our veterans was a victory for Education Secretary DeVos and the fraud merchants at the for-profit colleges,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), who sponsored the resolution in the Senate. “My question to the president: In four days, did you forget those flag-waving Memorial Day speeches as you vetoed a bill the veterans were begging for?”
The resolution was first passed by the House of Representatives in January by a vote of 231 to 180, and then in March, by the Senate with the support of 10 Republican senators.
Currently more than 300,000 students have filed borrower-defense claims with the Department of Education, but federal officials have been slow to process those claims, in some cases making students wait for years. In October, DeVos was held in contempt of court for violating a 2018 court order to stop collecting on the debts of students who went to Corinthian Colleges, a massive for-profit college that abruptly shut its doors in 2015. In some cases, DeVos has gone so far as to garnish the wages of those students.
With these students in mind, NEA has strongly supported the original protections, and gone on record many times in fierce opposition to DeVos’ revisions. “Rather than safeguarding students, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is choosing to…protect unscrupulous colleges,” wrote Marc Egan, director of NEA government relations, in a February letter to senators.
Egan further explained, “The DeVos rule is especially cruel considering that those who are most vulnerable to targeting by these predatory institutions include veterans, older students, students of color, disabled students, and students who are the first in their families to attend college.”
Now, education advocates are urging Congress to overturn the Trump veto. “The administration’s regulation wields legalese and bureaucracy to trap harmed borrowers in a process they have no hope of successfully completing to get their loans canceled, sending a clear message that colleges’ bad behavior will go unpunished,” said Ben Miller, a Center for American Progress vice president, in a statement. “Congress should see this bipartisan effort through and override President Trump’s veto, especially during a pandemic when so many people are suffering.”
But Pelosi predicted it would be difficult to get the votes to overturn Trump’s veto. “The House and Senate, on a bipartisan basis, firmly stood with our students and veterans to reject the administration’s cruel and dangerous decision,” Pelosi told the New York Times. “It is sad that the president rejected the will of the Congress and the country with his veto.”