WASHINGTON — The White House couldn’t risk looking taken aback.
After the Supreme Court scrapped President Joe Biden’s plan to ease the burden of student debt, he moved quickly on Friday to reassure key Democratic voters that he will find a way to keep a signature campaign promise.
Minutes after the court’s 6-3 decision, the White House released a statement saying Biden “isn’t done fighting yet” and was “prepared for this scenario.” After learning of the decision from top aides, Biden met with them privately to consider next steps, White House officials said.
Later that afternoon, he rolled out new plans that the White House said would ensure that financially “vulnerable” borrowers who miss payments through the end of September 2024 are not considered delinquents. He also announced new repayment options that would be made available to borrowers.
“It’s going to take longer,” the president said in brief remarks from the White House, “but in my view, this is the best path left to provide debt relief to as many borrowers as possible.” debt”.
Biden faces a tough re-election campaign and cannot afford to leave young and minority voters upset about having to make student loan payments they thought could be forgiven or dramatically reduced. After a pause that began in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, payments are now expected to resume in the fall.
In the run-up to the court’s decision, Biden’s allies had warned him he must come up with an alternative plan if judges scuttled his loan forgiveness program. Black college graduates owe about $25,000 more than their white counterparts and have the most to lose if Biden doesn’t find a way to deliver broad debt relief — an issue that has energized a loyal bloc of Democratic voters.
“We’ve built income, but not wealth, so black students are borrowing and defaulting at higher rates,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., said in an interview after the ruling was delivered.
“The White House must act. The lives of forty-three million people have been drastically altered by this decision,” she added, referring to the number of people who would have benefited from Biden’s original plan for student loans. “It will keep people up at night and they deserve this relief. A promise is a promise.”
In recent weeks, White House officials have given no indication of their preparations for the Supreme Court ruling. Once the decision was made, however, they moved quickly in an effort to show voters that they had been prepared.
Several weeks ago, White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients began leading weekly meetings to develop options in the event the court canceled the program, officials said. White House aides met with congressional allies as well as student loan relief advocates as they considered potential solutions.
Biden’s plan would have allowed borrowers to write off up to $20,000 in student loan debt, at a total cost of about $400 billion. The program, launched in August, has proven popular with young voters. A survey in late May by Data Progress, a progressive polling firm, and the nonprofit group Student Borrower Protection Center found that 77% of voters under 45 favored the proposal, compared to 18% who opposed it.
It is now crucial for Biden to take meaningful action, liberal groups have said, adding that the White House’s hesitation could risk a backlash from voters.
“He needs to fix this problem,” said Natalia Abrams, president of the Student Debt Crisis Center. “It is incomprehensible that these people are making a payment on October 1 when the President of the United States has told them they don’t have to. He must keep his campaign promise and his promise as president.
Biden’s standing among young voters has been up and down for most of his presidency. He released his plan to forgive student loan debt at a time when his job rating among young voters was dismal. Only 36% of people aged 18 to 34 approved of his performance then, compared to 58% who disapproved.
A dramatic turnaround followed the unveiling of his plan: Biden’s approval rating among young voters jumped a net 25 percentage points. In September, 48% approved of his performance, compared to 45% who disapproved.
Biden has recently broadened his support for younger voters, but he’s still nowhere near matching the approval ratings of the last Democratic president, Barack Obama. At a comparable point in Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, Americans aged 18 to 34 approved of his performance by a 20-point margin. For Biden, the margin this month was just 7 points, according to an NBC News poll.
Supporters credit Biden with the means to reduce the $1.75 trillion in unpaid student debt. Yet before the Supreme Court’s decision, they warned that he was responsible for the problem, regardless of the judges’ decision.
In a recent letter to Biden, NAACP officials Derrick Johnson and Wisdom Cole wrote, “Let’s be clear – in the absence of further and prompt action following an adverse court ruling, black voters are likely to be incredibly disillusioned with a failed administration. to deliver on key campaign promises, but managed to widen the racial wealth gap and propel their families, friends, neighbors and colleagues into economic uncertainty.
The court’s decision could open a new front in the presidential campaign: the sweeping societal changes stemming from the Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority. In a ruling released Thursday, the court scrapped affirmative action programs aimed at giving minorities more opportunities to attend elite colleges and universities. Last year, the court overturned Roe v. Wade, nullifying a constitutional right to abortion that had existed for half a century.
Former President Donald Trump cemented the court’s conservative majority with his three nominations – a tie Biden is certain to make as the 2024 campaign unfolds, with a potential rematch against his 2020 opponent.
“This is not a normal court,” Biden told reporters after the court issued its affirmative action ruling.
This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com