Clip: After announcing student loan relief, Biden ramps up criticism of GOP ahead of midterms

Aug. 26, 2022 AT 5:36 p.m. EDT

As the midterms get closer, President Biden and the White House are turning up the heat on their criticisms of the GOP. The president accused Republicans allied with Trump of turning toward "semi-fascism" and being a threat to democracy. This comes as Republicans and some Democrats criticized Biden's plan to cancel up to $20,000 of federal student loans for millions of Americans.

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Alcindor : As the midterms get closer, we have seen President Biden in the White House, they are turning up the heat on their criticisms of the GOP. In a fiery speech Thursday, President Biden accused Republicans, allied with former President Trump, of turning toward, quote, "semi fascism", and a, quote, being a threat to democracy.

This all comes after President Biden made some other big news this week. On Wednesday, he announced the federal government would cancel up to $20,000 of federal student loans for millions of Americans. But Republicans and even some Democrats were quick to criticize this plan.

So, I want to go to you, Michael. You think about President Biden using semi fascism -- that is a big deal. What is his thinking, and what is the White House strategy?

Shear : So, the White House has a two-pronged strategy for the next several months for the elections.

One is to really spend a lot of time touting their accomplishments, right? If you think back to March and April of this year, it was really doom and gloom for Democrats. They felt like they had to accomplish much of the president’s agenda. There was this flurry of activity this summer.

The student loans that were just mentioned, the legislation to do climate change, drug prices, gas prices are down, things are kind of looking up a little bit, so one half of the strategy is touching all that progress.

The other half is really attacking Republicans, drawing that contrast and saying to voters, look, you have a choice. It is not just a referendum on Joe Biden and what you might think of the Democratic rule in Washington. It is if you don’t want this, look at what is out there.

This phrase ultra MAGA, they are trying to link all Republicans to Donald Trump, and to say that agenda is really extreme and whether you are not totally satisfied with Joe Biden, that is the alternative. That is their twin strategy for the next few months.

Alcindor : And as part of that twin strategy, they are trying to get things done that can hold up. So, of course, they get to talk student loans. This was a promise, part of the promise that candidate Biden made on the campaign trail. What is your sense of why this might happen right now, and might we see all student loan debt canceled?

Shear : I think that’s highly unlikely. The president really was kind of pushed during the campaign by his more liberal rivals when he was running against Senators Warren and Sanders. He was pushed to do something on student loans. I think over the last 18 months, there’s been a lot of delay, because he still was very uncomfortable about the idea. I mean, it is -- there is some level of unfairness that I think even the Democrats would acknowledge. You are picking and choosing groups, who is going to get a benefit.

And, you know, some people are and some aren’t. He finally came around to it, but I do think this is the limit. I don’t know that it will be able to be pushed much further.

Alcindor : And, Ali, you are shaking your head. President Biden, when this announcement was made, you had some progressive Democrats who are championing it. You had some who also said it’s not going far enough. The president of the NAACP saying it should go even farther because it affects African-Americans in a particular way, but you also have moderate Democrats, right, who are saying this could hurt inflation and make it worse.

What’s your reporting say?

Vitali : Well, because I think from moderate Democrats people we were hearing from, like senator or want to be Senator Tim Ryan, who’s running in Ohio, and then Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, who’s playing defense in Nevada, they are speaking out against this decision from President Biden, and we are also hearing from frontline Democrats on the House side of this, who are saying -- speaking to the unfairness that you were talking about there.

But on the other side of this is the reality progressives have been talking about for a long time, that this helps people not be saddled with this debt for the entirety of their lives. This is impacting millions of Americans. Some of them are not even Americans who are working with college degrees right now. I think that is part of the conversation that might be left out, that some of these folks had to drop out of college for whatever reason and are not getting the higher earning benefits of having that education behind them, but still having to pay that student loan debt. So, I think that’s a piece of this conversation, too. I think it’s a moment for Biden where he can say it is a promise made in a promise cap, although it does not make him the most popular person with everyone, because progressives still want more and moderates do not want this at all.

I will say, Republicans who I have spoken with feel like this is a moment for them to have an in road the conversation they want to have in the midterms, which is that it is all about economy and inflation. This provides them an avenue to do that, even as Democrats rather focus in a way that you’re talking about, on the ultra MAGA movement, tying Trump as a binary here, not making this just a referendum on Biden. But, oh, wait, Trump is back in the news cycle, lets remember what the one v. one is, Biden versus Trump. That is what the White House would like to campaign on, too.

Alcindor : And, Scott, as Ali is talking about popularity, we should point out, according to Gallup, President Biden’s job approval is hitting a record high right now. It’s up, it’s six percentage points, so 44 percent, his highest in a year. We should note that still means he is underwater in some ways, - 53 percent of Americans are disapproving of his job performance.

But how does that square with your reporting and what you are seeing and what we’ve been talking about?

MacFarlane : We are going to get a real good sense of how popular Democrats think this student loan decision and order is, because we are less than 75 days until the midterm elections. On behalf of my children and children everywhere, I asked rhetorically, where did the summer go? It is a chance for candidates to articulate their message and make their homestretch arguments.

Let’s see next week if we see a bevy of new campaign ads from Democrats mentioning the student debt issue. I can tell you what we saw this past week, new abortion rights, women reproductive health rights ads from Democrats. They saw what happened Tuesday in upstate New York, in the Hudson Valley, where a Democrat won in the first real head-to-head Republican on Democrat battle for Congress since the Supreme Court ruling in June, and Democrats exceeded expectations, their expectations, I think Republicans’ expectations, too.

And here come more ads about abortion rights after an election in which they Democrat made abortion rights his primary issue. Let’s see if student debt becomes an issue in the next 75 days.

Alcindor : And, Eva, you have been on the campaign trail. How are people viewing student loans and this action by President Biden?

McKend : Well, this is an issue that does not fall neatly along partisan lines. I think the argument we have heard from Republicans is that this is really a deal for the wealthy and that working-class people in Middle America are going to be paying for the elites.

But that really doesn’t really pass muster, because you have working-class folks in Middle America who are saddled with student loan debt too. I am interested to see how this rolls out. I will say something that often happens is when these different programs are targeted, and this one very much is, is that it takes a longer time to implement.

So, let’s see if the federal government can actually work with some effectiveness on this and when these loans are actually canceled. That will make all the difference, is this actually going to work when it is all said and done?

Alcindor : It’s a good question and a big question.

Michael, coming back, it is clear they have -- they are having a week at the White House. The White House social media team had a whole thread attacking Biden and a bunch of Republicans, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, for going after student loan forgiveness but having received forgiveness of their PPP loans with ties to COVID loans.

What is behind this at the White House?

Shear : Somebody ate their Wheaties. If you have watched the official White House Twitter feed, it is not exciting, it is not TikTok. It is pretty boring usually. They came to life and were very aggressive in pushing back.

I think you can make a case that they were a little bit unfair in the comparison. The PPP loans which were for small businesses and restaurants, were entirely designed to be forgiven. That was the whole idea, that the money was essentially a bridge while businesses were going to get back on their feet because of the pandemic. The idea was you given the money but you are going to ultimately forget it.

Student loans were not designed that way. There is a bit of unfairness there, but politically I think it did exactly what the White House wanted, to get people talking and to put some of these Republicans back on their heels, because it is a bit of a --

Alcindor : Punch in the nose, really.

Eva, I want to ask you about a man named Maxwell Frost. He’s 25-year-old political advisor in -- political organizer in Florida. If he -- he won his primary in Florida.

If he goes to Congress, he would be the first member of Gen Z to go to Congress. I want to ask you about this because You have this new generation that is younger than me going to Congress, which feels a little crazy, but also it shows that the Democrats have a bench that is willing to go to Congress.

What are you hearing -- what do you make of his win and what it says about the Democrats?

McKend : Well, this is where the energy is in the party, with young progressives of color. That is where it is. I think what I am watching is, are the octogenarians in power going to support them, or are they going to stand in the way? I think another space to watch is the primaries in New York, where that very much was not the end result.

One could argue that the progressives of color were stifled in New York by the Democratic apparatus. So, this no doubt is where a lot of the enthusiasm is. But I am not yet convinced that the Democrats in control of the party like where this is headed are willing to invest and support that base.

Alcindor : All right. Last question, you have 15 seconds left, Ali. What do you make of what Eva is saying and hearing?

Vitali : I mean, I look at the results on what happened on Tuesday, and I see a bad night for women. Nikki Fried not getting that gubernatorial nomination, kind of the same thing that we saw in 2018 when Gwen Graham lost there.

And then, of course, Carolyn Maloney, the powerful chair of the oversight committee, losing to another powerful chair of the judiciary committee in Jerry Nadler. She made the race about the idea of the old boys club still in play. The gender was a factor on Tuesday night as well.

Alcindor : Yeah, good point and an important point.

So, thanks to our panelists for joining us and for sharing your reporting.

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