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Jill Biden Suffers Rebound Case of COVID; President Biden Announces New Security Assistance for Ukraine; Interview With Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA); President Biden Set to Announce Student Loan Relief Plan. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired August 24, 2022 - 13:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: "No Ordinary Life" premieres Monday, September 5, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time here on CNN.

And thanks for joining INSIDE POLITICS. I will be back here tomorrow.

Bianna Golodryga picks up our coverage right now.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York. Ana Cabrera has the day off.

Well, in a little more than an hour from now, a major announcement from the White House for millions of Americans struggling with student loan debt. President Biden will lay out a plan to cancel $10,000 in federal student loan payments for borrowers who make less than $125,000 a year and to extend the payment freeze.

Let's go right to CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly.

So, Phil, what more are we learning about this major announcement today?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Bianna, this is an announcement that has been months in the making, very intense debates inside the White House, a ton of pressure from Democrats and outside groups outside the White House, getting the president to this point.

There's really three key elements here that you need to pay attention to. The details are very important. There are income caps to actually qualify for this loan cancellation. If you're an individual who makes under $125,000 a year or a family that makes under $250,000 a year and you have federal loans, the president is going to basically sign the ability to cancel $10,000 of those loans.

Now there's another element too that's very important; $20,000 could be canceled for any Pell Grant recipients with federal loans. That's incredibly important, as the administration has worked continuously over the course of the last several months to try and target this release, to try and target this cancellation towards lower- and middle-income individuals. The administration officials believe roughly -- almost all of Pell

Grant recipients make $60,000 or less. They would all qualify. In total, when you look at the actual loan cancellation, it would affect about 43 million borrowers if they all take advantage of what's being put on board right now. More than 20 million would have their loans canceled altogether.

The other element of this which is important is that extension of the loan repayment freeze. It has been in place since the pandemic, March of 2020. The administration has been weighing whether or not to let it expire on August 31. They will extend it for a little while longer to allow the system that they're putting in place today to take effect.

Also, I would note it gets it past Election Day when it comes to the repayment process as well. And then the other element here is a rule from the Department of Education that will limit any undergraduate loan payments to 5 percent of income.

Another key piece of this probably hasn't gotten as much attention, but it is very important. Now, this isn't going to be welcomed by everyone. In fact, it might upset everyone. Some Democrats called for much more significant cancellation. Republicans firing away already, saying that this is completely unfair to those who have paid their loans off, who saved and worked for college, and also the economic elements here, concerns about inflation from critical Democratic economists like Jason Furman, like Larry Summers.

White House officials believe that with the restart of the repayment freeze that, in net, this will kind of offset one another in terms of demand vs. the pressures, the countervailing pressures that would go against one another, Bianna.

But those are things that the White House is going to have to grapple with in the weeks and months ahead. That said, this is a significant step and one that, for months, it didn't seem like the president wanted to make. He's now making it with a large push from Senate Democrats in particular behind it.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, making it in just a little over an hour, 2:15 from the White House.

Of course, we will take his remarks when he does speak. Phil Mattingly, thank you.

Well, joining us now is Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Senator Warren, thank you so much for joining us.

I know this is a really important issue for you. You have spent most of your career as a law professor studying the effects of debt on U.S. families. The average student loan debt in this country, as you know, is around $30,000. You did campaign on $50,000 in debt relief.

So what is your reaction to this plan for $10,000?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Well, my reaction is that this is a great day, that today is the day the president is going to announce that about 20 million Americans will never have to make another student loan payment, and another 23 million Americans will have significant relief on their student loans.

Will I keep fighting for more? Of course I will. But look at what's happened. It is truly transformative for tens of millions of Americans. And this program has been very carefully targeted to meet mostly the people who have demonstrated a lot of need and, let's just be blunt, for whom it was hard to go to college.

We're going to see $20,000 of debt relief for over half of all of the borrowers, and those are disproportionately African-Americans, disproportionately veterans, disproportionately parents, and disproportionately first-generation students.

So this is about helping America's working class, America's middle class, and really targeting that relief, most relief, to those who need it most. I think that's pretty good.


GOLODRYGA: Let me ask you about that question as to whether this is equitable enough, because -- especially from a racial perspective, because the NAACP released this statement in response to this announcement, saying: "The student debt crisis has a disproportionate impact on black borrowers and their families. Across all racial groups, black borrowers hold the most student loan debt, despite also being consistently underserved by post-secondary institutions."

Now, I know the administration is trying to incorporate the Pell Grant, given that the Pell Grant recipients largely composed of those who are racially minorities in this country. That having been said, this is not really an endorsement from the NAACP.

WARREN: So, two things about that you want to focus on.

When the NAACP was talking about the program, they were talking about a $10,000 across the board. The fact that it is twice as much loan forgiveness for Pell recipients and that Pell recipients that is disproportionately racial minorities, disproportionately veterans and parents and first-generation students, the fact that they are getting twice as much relief, and enough relief that, literally for millions, it will cancel out all of their student loan debt, I think it changes that calculus.

Now, like I said, do I want more? You bet I do. And will I continue to fight alongside the NAACP and other groups to have more student loan forgiveness? Yes. But the steps that the administration has taken today are powerful, they are important. There are millions of people right now who should be celebrating over what they have just heard, because their financial lives have just gotten a whole lot better.


Isn't this, however, just a Band-Aid to the larger issue at hand? And that is how we got these debts in the first place. The cost of tuition has skyrocketed over the past few decades. You know that. And there are real concerns as to whether colleges are actually delivering enough for Americans in terms of their future earnings.

WARREN: So I think that we have three things we need to think about.

And that is the historic debt that we already have. And that's kind of the headline here, canceling $20,000 of that debt. Part two is how students are going to finance college going forward. And there's a really important part in this statement, and that is that the federal government, in effect, is offering to go into partnership with anyone who wants to go to school and can't afford to just write a check for it.

And that is that they won't have to pay more than 5 percent of their disposable income on their debt. The interest won't mount up on that debt. And at the end of 20 years, they're totally done, whether they were able to pay it off or not with that amount.

But the third part is absolutely doing more to make sure that colleges and universities and all post-high school education is truly delivering and that it's keeping costs down.


WARREN: This is why I have long urged a bill for schools to have to have skin in the game, when they have got students who are borrowing money to go to school, and also fought hard for transparency in the schools, so that they have to reveal data about how much students are actually paying and how long it takes students to graduate and how many are graduating and what happens to them after graduation.

But this is the first step. We deal with the debt. We deal with payments going forward. And now it's going to be up to Congress to make sure that we do more to hold the colleges and universities accountable.

GOLODRYGA: Well, as you know, this hasn't been received well by everyone in Congress.

Senator Mitch McConnell says that this plan is a slap in the face to working-class families.

Let me ask you, what do you say to a family that says, listen, I just spent years paying off my debt, I didn't have the federal government helping me out, bailing me out, and now I may be doing just that for a family that, at some point, may be earning more than I do?

WARREN: Look, I'm not at all surprised that Mitch McConnell is attacking this.

And the reason he's attacking it is because it is very, very popular, popular among Democrats, independents, Republicans, popular. And you know why? Because I don't think there's anybody left in America who doesn't know somebody who isn't struggling with student loan debt.

This has become a part of our country now, people for whom their only sin was to want to try to get an education and not be in a family that could afford to write a check for it. And what we're saying is, as a nation, we can do better than that. We can invest in our people. We can help our people.


And, ultimately, what the data show us is that, because of student loan debt, there are many people who don't move out of their mama's basement, who can't save up money to buy a home, who don't start small businesses, who don't start a family.

You relieve the debt burden some for those people, and we have more economic activity. In other words, canceling student loan debt is good for the people whose debt is canceled, but it is also good for our economy and the rest of America.

GOLODRYGA: This is yet another victory for the president and his supporters and, as you note, in your view for the rest of the country as a whole. Take off your political hat on that front. Everyone would like to have their loans paid down and go to college. At least most Americans would.

But it has been a successful run for the president. You can't deny that, whether on foreign policy initiatives and here at home economically, with legislation. We see inflation still high, but it does appear to be peaking. Gas prices are going down as well.

Yet it seems that he is not benefiting at the polls from this. Why do you think that his approval ratings remain stubbornly low at this point?

WARREN: Oh, come on. Haven't we learned over the past few years about the trouble with polls?


GOLODRYGA: But other Democrats -- but other Democrats are faring well. They are seeing a positive response from voters.

WARREN: What matters to me is that we are getting things done that need to be done.

I mean, look at what just happened in the Inflation Reduction Act. We actually are going to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent in less than eight years. And we're going to pay for it by requiring these billion-dollar-profit corporations that have been paying nothing in taxes to actually pay a 15 percent minimum tax.

We will put a cap on the cost of insulin to people on Medicare and a cap overall on prescription drugs.

GOLODRYGA: I have just -- yes, I mean, I have just listed all of these achievements. And I guess...

(CROSSTALK) WARREN: And I just want to say how exciting that is, and how exciting it is, particularly when you compare it to what the Republicans have to offer.

So we can talk about popularity polls and everything else, but the reality is, at the end of the day, we're going to have elections in which it comes down to two people. One is a Democrat. And the Democrats can say, this is what I fought for, and this is what I have accomplished.

The Republicans can say what they have been saying for the last year- and-a-half: No. What's their plan on student loan debt? No. What's their plan on the price of insulin? No. What's their plan on carbon emissions in this nation and around the world? No.


WARREN: What's their plan on making big corporations pay a fair share? No.

So, I feel pretty good about how those contests are going to come out.

GOLODRYGA: Senator Elizabeth Warren, always great to see you. Thank you so much for your time.

WARREN: It's good to see you too.

GOLODRYGA: We want to go back to Phil Mattingly at the White House, where, Phil, we have just started the first lady has tested positive once again for COVID? Another rebound case like her husband?

MATTINGLY: Yes, Bianna, that's exactly right.

President Biden caught COVID and then, shortly thereafter, after taking the antiviral drug Paxlovid, had a rebound case. We have seen it throughout the country over the course of the last several months. Now the first lady is experiencing the same thing.

Our colleague Kate Bennett breaking the news that the first lady, Jill Biden, has tested positive again for COVID-19. She's not currently experiencing symptoms, according to her deputy communications director. But you remember, back on August 15, she tested positive. She stayed in South Carolina, where they had been located, later rejoined the president in Delaware.

She's currently in Rehoboth Beach, where the president came back to the White House from earlier today. She had tested negative yesterday, tested positive this morning. She had also taken Paxlovid. So this looks like a rebound case as well.

Again, no symptoms currently being experienced. And the president has tested negative this morning. According to a senior White House official, he will be masking indoors over the course of the next 10 days, according to CDC guidelines.

But, at this point in time, still no symptoms for the first lady, but yet another rebound case when it comes to COVID from an individual who took Paxlovid, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, we're hearing more and more about these rebound cases. At least she is feeling well.

Phil Mattingly, thank you.

Well, celebrating independence while fighting to keep it as well. Ukraine today marking 31 years since its broke away from the Soviet Union, just as President Biden announces $3 billion in new military aid. We're live ahead in Kyiv.

Plus, the clock is ticking on Donald Trump and the Justice Department. Both sides facing key deadlines this week over the Mar-a-Lago search. More details ahead.

Plus, striking on the first day of school, why teachers in Ohio's largest school district say they will not return to the classroom until certain conditions are met, and what students are doing in the meantime.



GOLODRYGA: New today, President Biden announces a $3 billion aid package to Ukraine.

It comes as Ukraine celebrates its Independence Day and marks six months since Russia unleashed its unprovoked war. Ukraine was bracing for escalated Russian attacks. It's now past 8:00 p.m. there and so far, thankfully, that has not happened.

CNN's David McKenzie is in Kyiv.

So, David, what is the mood there in the capital city? I would imagine a lot of mixed emotions today.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that's a good way of putting it, Bianna.

We were down with that line of more than 50 tanks and APCs of the Russian military that have been lined up by the Ukrainians to make a point, a very strong point, which is they said that the Russians would have wanted by now to have their own military parade in Kyiv.


Well, this is the parade that they gave them. There's been sirens throughout the day. But that's pretty typical here in Kyiv, sirens to warn about possible incoming strikes.

But I asked several people, Bianna, why they were there, despite being asked to stay at home or to not have large gatherings because of this heightened alert.

One man, Dima, said to me, well, they have concern for the uncertainty, but they have a bigger concern, as he put it, for their freedom. And President Zelenskyy has taken the opportunity of this anniversary to really rally the troops, both civilian and military.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We're holding on for six months. It's difficult for us. But we clenched our fists, fighting for our fate.

Every new day is a new reason not to give up, because, having gone through so much, we have no right not to reach the end. What is the end of the war for us? We used to say peace. Now we say victory.


MCKENZIE: Well, the victory is still far off.

If you look at the front lines of this fight, Bianna, in the south, the east, and the northeast, it's very much for many weeks now a static front line of artillery shells and rocket attacks relentless on those communities and on the soldiers stationed there.

There is now this very substantial promise of aid from the White House. If you look at the details, it speaks to what kind of fight this has become, of course, surface-to-air missile systems to protect cities and areas of importance, but then a great deal of ammunition, artillery ammunition, mortar ammunition.

This talks again to the grinding nature of this conflict that has become an artillery battle between the two armies, and then the laser- guided rocket systems for more precision weapons. But, right now, it's this grind and conflict, and no sign really of either side making substantial gains, at least for now -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: At least for now -- that is not good news.

David McKenzie, thank you.

Well, let's continue this discussion.

Dmitri Alperovitch is a Russian-born expert on geopolitics and cybersecurity. He is chairman of the Silverado Policy Accelerator.

Dmitri, great to have you on.

You were one of the few Russia watchers who actually believed that a full invasion was coming in the buildup to February 24. Here we are six months later. Give us a sense of where things stand, specifically on the battlefield, which looks more and more like a war of attrition.


And you know, of course, the Ukrainians in these last six months have been able to valiantly defend their country, defend their freedom. But things are not great for them, and particularly when it comes to their economy. It has been decimated by the Russian blockade of the Black Sea. Much of their industrial capacity is shut down or is not able to get out of the country.

Of course, the Russians are now allowing some agricultural exports, but nowhere near enough for the Ukrainians to resume their economic effectiveness. About 40 percent of their GDP has collapsed as a result of this war.

The Russians are taking economic pain as well, but nowhere near as much as the Ukrainians. So the longer this goes on, the worse it will get from a financial perspective for the Ukrainians. And the front line, as we -- you just discussed, is very static.

I think the Russians are likely to lose some of their territory that they have gained, particularly around the city of Kherson, where their position is really not sustainable. But everywhere else, it's going to be, I think, very difficult for the Ukrainians to make headway in the near future.

GOLODRYGA: Well, as you heard, the Biden administration announced another $3 billion in military aid, bringing the total to about $13 billion since this war began.

The president says that these funds will continue for as long as needed. But there -- there is concern about how much longer Congress can continue to green-light all of these tranches of aid. And we're seeing sort of a pullback, I would say, amongst aid coming from other NATO allies in Europe there, as they're concerned about their own economies.

Is there reason for concern in key right now for the Zelenskyy administration to worry about how much longer U.S. aid in particular will be there for them?

ALPEROVITCH: There's no question that they're concerned.

And they're concerned for two reasons. One, is the political will going to be sustained over the long term, particularly as Europe is very likely to go into a deep recession this winter, with the gas from Russia getting cut off? And they have -- they're having to shut down major industry. Particularly, the fertilizer industry has already mostly shut down across Europe because of the high gas Prices.

But, also, one of the things that we don't often talk about is, do we even have the military industrial production capacity to keep up with the needs of the Ukrainian military, particularly when it comes to ammunition, the artillery shells?


The Ukrainians are consuming so much of it that we may not have significant stocks that we would be able to give to the Ukrainians in the near future if this goes on for many months.

GOLODRYGA: And as if we have to have another thing to worry about, there is concern surrounding the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. It's the largest nuclear power plant in all of Europe.

U.S. officials, along with other European leaders, would like to see some U.N. representation there on the ground. But the concern you are more focused on is not necessarily from a nuclear crisis or tragedy. It's that Russia can use that plant as blackmail. Explain.

ALPEROVITCH: Absolutely.

Well, and I don't want to minimize the risk. Certainly, any time there is shelling around nuclear power plants, it's not a good situation. But the reality is, the Russians want to avoid a nuclear meltdown. They don't want the spread of radiation going to Russia itself and impacting their own forces.

So I think they're going to try to prevent that. But what they're trying to do at this plant is really use it as a blackmail tool by claiming that the Ukrainians are creating an unsafe situation there through the shelling.

They basically, I think, are going to attempt to shut down the plant for -- quote, unquote -- "safety reasons." And that plant is responsible for a huge portion of Ukraine's electrical generation capacity, over 35 percent. So if it's shut down, particularly as we're going into a cold winter, this is going to be a huge problem for the Ukrainians.

And the Russian may use that -- the threat of the nuclear meltdown as an excuse.

GOLODRYGA: We will continue to watch this. That is an ominous threat.

Dmitri Alperovitch, thank you, as always. We appreciate it.

ALPEROVITCH: Thank you so much.

GOLODRYGA: Well, a federal judge is giving former President Trump until Friday to explain exactly why he wants a special master to review documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago.

We will have the latest ahead.