- AOC called out the executive action Biden is sitting on for the climate, student debt, and immigration in a NYT interview.
- She said Democrats’ agenda shouldn’t be scaled down just because of Manchin and Sinema.
- Canceling student debt via executive action is something Biden has been considering for months.
AOC thinks President Biden has the power to do a lot more.
While the House recently passed Biden’s $2 trillion Build Back Better framework, marking a significant advancement in Democrats’ economic agenda, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t too quick to celebrate.
“There is an enormous amount of executive action that they’re sitting on that I think is underutilized,” Ocasio-Cortez told the New York Times. “On student loans. We’ve got executive action on the table with respect to climate. There are certainly things that we can do with immigration.”
Opposition from centrist Democratic holdouts Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema forced Democrats to significantly scale down what was once a $3.5 trillion social-spending package, leaving climate measures like the Clean Electricity Payment Program (CEPP) and free community college out. Ocasio-Cortez lamented those cuts, telling the Times that the past six months were spent “watching us just hand the pen to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema” when Biden could have used his executive authority to progress his agenda himself.
“So why are we taking this as a legislative compromise, when the opportunity is so much greater, or when Biden could do this stuff with a stroke of a pen, and is just reminding us that he’s choosing not to?” Ocasio-Cortez said.
So far, Biden has signed 71 executive orders that have covered the topics Ocasio-Cortez mentioned. One of his first actions was extending the student-loan payment pause to give borrowers relief during the pandemic. He also rejoined the Paris agreement to reinstate the US as a leader in fighting the climate crisis and reversed President Donald Trump’s expansion of immigration enforcement in the US in separate actions.
But some Democrats argue he can do even more. Ocasio-Cortez, along with other House and Senate progressives, have been calling on the president to use his executive authority to cancel at least $50,000 in student debt per borrower, arguing that he has the authority to do so under the Higher Education Act.
As Insider has previously reported, experts and lawmakers disagree on whether Biden actually has that authority, and Biden himself wasn’t so sure either and asked the Education Department to prepare a memo on his legal ability to broadly cancel student debt — a memo he has had since at least April but has yet to release it.
And while the House’s Build Back Better package included work permits for about 6.5 million undocumented people in the US, it could likely be cut in the Senate under parliamentarian review, which is why Ocasio-Cortez is calling for Biden to take matters into his own hands and avoid the risks of going the legislative route.
As Insider previously reported, executive orders are often a source of partisan debate and are used to advance an administration’s priorities. Trump, for example, signed more executive orders in four years than many of his predecessors did in eight, with most of them focusing on issues relevant to his base, like repealing Obamacare and imposing an immigration ban on Muslim countries.