“We will closely review the documents we are receiving to ensure that they are responsive to the questions we have asked and provide the clarity that students deserve,” Scott said in a statement Thursday. “We look forward to discussing this information at a hearing with the Secretary in the near future.”
The request centers on the Trump administration’s adherence to a 1995 law, known as borrower defense to repayment, that protects students who are defrauded by their colleges. Hundreds of thousands of people who attended primarily for-profit colleges have applied for debt forgiveness under the law but have yet to learn whether their claims will be approved. The Trump administration has not taken action on any applications in a year, citing ongoing litigation from former Corinthian Colleges students.
Scott has gone back and forth with the Education Department for weeks to get Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to publicly testify, with the dispute escalating to threats of a subpoena. The department said Mark A. Brown, who heads the department’s student aid office, could brief the committee or testify instead of DeVos. At one point, DeVos wrote to Scott suggesting they talk in person or over the phone but reiterated that Brown was best positioned to update the committee.
“It’s unprecedented, and honestly it’s counterproductive, for House Democrats to demand a hearing with the Secretary before having had a briefing, let alone a conversation, on the topic,” department spokeswoman Angela Morabito said. “It’s also completely unreasonable that they won’t accept hearing from the Department’s operational lead on borrower defense claims, Gen. Mark Brown.”
Scott said Brown explicitly stated during a meeting in May that he was not empowered to make decisions about discharging loans. Furthermore, Brown, who was hired in March, was not privy to conversations that laid the foundation of the Trump administration’s policy on debt relief claims. Committee aides say Brown was nevertheless invited for a briefing Nov. 8 but never showed, an assertion the Education Department denies.
The administration’s debt cancellation policy landed in the courts after Corinthian students sued DeVos and the department for granting partial relief using earnings data from the Social Security Administration. A federal judge said the Education Department violated privacy laws by using the data to calculate loan forgiveness and barred the strategy.
The case resulted in DeVos being held in contempt Oct. 24 for violating a court order to stop collecting loan payments from former students of the defunct for-profit chain. A federal judge imposed a $100,000 fine on the Education Department, which must use the money to compensate the 16,000 people harmed by the agency’s actions.
The Trump administration has argued that the Corinthian case is preventing it from taking action on the applications and that nothing can be done until the case is resolved.
“The reality is: the facts are incredibly complicated, and the issue is further complicated by multiple pending lawsuits. But it doesn’t seem the Committee is terribly interested in learning the facts,” Morabito said. “Any of our proposals would get the Committee the information they’re seeking — the only thing it wouldn’t give Democrats is a show trial with the media circus to match.”