Politico

Warren drops opposition to Biden’s higher education nominee


President Joe Biden’s pick for the No. 3 spot at the Education Department is moving forward in the Senate after Sen. Elizabeth Warren dropped her opposition, citing “substantial reforms” to the federal student loan program that she says the administration vowed to make.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer early Wednesday morning filed cloture on the nomination of James Kvaal to be undersecretary of Education, the top official overseeing higher education and student aid. The Senate agreed to take up the procedural vote on his nomination when it returns from recess in mid-September.

Kvaal, a former top Obama education adviser who most recently led The Institute for College Access and Success, won bipartisan support as his nomination cleared the Senate HELP Committee in April on a 19-3 vote. But Warren blocked a swift confirmation on the Senate floor as she pressed the Biden administration over its plans for managing $1.6 trillion of federal student loans.

Key context: After months of talks with the Education Department, Warren released her hold on the nomination last week, clearing the way for a vote when the Senate returns in September.

“I have had productive conversations with Mr. Kvaal, the Department of Education, and the White House, and I am glad they have committed to making substantial reforms to the administration of the student loan program,” Warren (D-Mass.) said in a statement on Wednesday. “I look forward to continuing to work with them as these changes are implemented.”

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote in a letter to Warren and Schumer last week that his agency planned to work in the coming months on “servicing and debt collection, improving targeted debt relief, and strengthening oversight and enforcement of institutions and of accreditation agencies.”

Cardona wrote in the letter, which was obtained by POLITICO, that he was sharing with Warren and Schumer “some of our future plans based on your helpful input.”

A source familiar with that agreement said the Education Department pledged to make changes to its policies governing bankruptcy for student loan borrowers, accountability for loan servicing companies and the treatment of borrowers who default on their debt.

The cloture motion filed by Schumer on early Wednesday also comes after the Biden administration last week extended the pause on monthly student loan payments and interest until the end of January 2022. Schumer and Warren were among the Democratic lawmakers who had called for that extension, though they also want the Biden administration to go further and cancel up to $50,000 of debt per borrower using executive action.

The White House has said the administration is still reviewing whether it has the legal power to wipe out large swaths of outstanding federal student loan debt.

The commitments that Warren won from the Education Department did not relate directly to widespread student debt cancellation, according to a source familiar with the agreement.

What’s next: The Senate agreed to consider Kvaal’s nomination when it returns from recess next month. The chamber is set to take a procedural vote on the nomination after 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 13.

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