Warren Stalls Senate Vote on Biden Pick for Higher Education

  • James Kvaal got bipartisan support for under secretary job
  • Democrat applying pressure over federal student loan program

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has slowed the confirmation of President Joe Biden’s pick to oversee federal higher education policy, a person familiar with the issue said.

James Kvaal, former president of the nonprofit The Institute for College Access and Success, in April advanced out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee with bipartisan support. But a floor vote on his nomination hasn’t materialized. Meanwhile, the Education Department faces an ambitious overhaul of student loan regulations and other pressing issues, such as the expiration of a moratorium on federal loan payments.

The hold Warren requested on the nomination was related to the administration of the federal student loan program, and not tied to debt cancellation, the person said.

Photographer: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks to reporters prior to a vote on an elections reform bill on June 22, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Bloomberg Government originally reported the nomination was being delayed by a Senate Democrat. Multiple individuals with knowledge of the issue said the delay was connected to demands over student loan relief.

Democrat Stalls Confirmation of Top Biden Higher Education Pick

While a hold can’t permanently block a nominee in the Senate, an objection from a Democrat in the 50-50 split chamber makes it harder to advance a nomination because of the difficulty of establishing a majority, and the reluctance of leadership to disregard members of the caucus.

A spokeswoman for the Education Department said the agency was encouraged by recent conversations with Senate offices around Kvaal’s nomination. The agency said it shared lawmakers’ goals around making Federal Student Aid—the office that manages student aid programs—more friendly to consumers.

Richard Cordray, a Warren ally and former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was named chief operating officer at Federal Student Aid in May.

Cancel Student Debt

Warren has been a chief advocate of student debt relief, as well as an outspoken critic of the federal student loan program. She and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have called on Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt per borrower across the board using executive authority.

Biden has questioned his legal authority to issue such relief, although the White House has said it would study the issue. He’s separately called for Congress to pass more modest student debt relief.

Warren, the chair of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee’s economic policy panel, has also demanded that the Education Department drop its contracts with loan servicers Navient Corp. and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. Although the federal government makes student loans, those companies and other servicers are charged with managing loan payments and forgiveness programs.

Warren Says Feds Should Fire Student Loan Servicer Navient

In an April hearing, she accused PHEAA of bungling the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. She also said Navient improperly placed borrowers into plans that made it harder for them to repay their loans, which the company denied.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Kreighbaum in Washington at akreighbaum@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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