President Joe Biden is under pressure to address a slew of issues on his docket when he took office nearly a year ago, with liberals clamoring for him to keep campaign promises despite narrow Democratic majorities.
Others, such as a surge in illegal migration, have grown throughout the year and hurt Biden's standing with independent voters less than a year out from the midterm elections.
Extending the moratorium on student loan repayments
Biden extended a pause on student loan payments until May 1 as the omicron surge hit the United States, the third time he has postponed the deadline. The moratorium had been set to expire on Jan. 31 after the Education Department issued its fourth pandemic-related suspension in August.
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The decision to continue with the nearly two-year pause followed months of pressure from activists. In one recent meeting with loan forgiveness advocates, Biden’s domestic policy and economic teams were told letting the moratorium expire would be “bad politically,” according to Politico. The White House, touting record low unemployment numbers, has argued that resuming payments is part of the country’s return to business as usual.
Forty-one million borrowers have taken advantage of the pause on repayments, which will save $5 billion per month, the Education Department said in a statement announcing the decision. More than 45 million borrowers hold some $1.6 trillion of federal student loan debt.
Still, pressure from liberal Democrats shows no signs of abating.
“If you can afford to pause student loan payments over and over again, you can afford to cancel it,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement following Biden’s announcement.
At-home COVID-19 tests
Omicron’s sweep has prompted an about-face from the White House on testing, as cases surge and people find themselves unable to check whether they are carrying the virus.
The White House scoffed in early December at the suggestion that the government send COVID-19 tests to every household. During an exchange with reporters over the cost and availability of at-home options, press secretary Jen Psaki responded, “Should we just send one to every American?”
She added, “Then what — then what happens ... if every American has one test? How much does that cost, and then what happens after that?”
The new variant has spread widely among the vaccinated, collapsing the administration’s principal mitigation strategy of shots in arms. Increased exposures mean the prospect of more frequent tests and, with this, mounting costs.
Weeks after Psaki’s remarks, the White House said it planned to help with testing through a new initiative: It would purchase 500 million at-home rapid tests, available for sign-up and delivery in January.
During Biden’s announcement, his second COVID-19-focused speech this month, he defended his administration’s handling of the new variant’s spread, arguing that he “knew that was coming.”
But he also said that no one anticipated the speed. “All of a sudden, it was like everybody rushed to the counter,” he added. “There was a big, big rush.”
The Biden administration has permitted border officials to resume construction on several gaps in the Trump-era border wall along the southern U.S. Biden halted wall construction after taking office in January amid opposition from some in his party. He had also ordered a review of the billions in spending allocated to the effort under the prior administration.
The president has struggled to contain illegal crossings at the southern border, leading to reports of inter-White House divisions over how to handle the crisis. Biden faces low approval numbers on his handling of immigration issues. He also faces pressure from some in his party to take a softer stance that many argue encourages the surge in numbers.
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Biden’s migration policies continue to rely on policies imposed by former President Donald Trump. The Biden administration has been forced to reinstate the Migrant Protection Protocols, which pushes migrants back to Mexico to pursue their asylum claims at a distance, following a Supreme Court order. The Title 42 health protocols, which allowed border officials to turn away immediately any migrants who attempt to cross the border amid the pandemic, are also in effect.