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Sen. Elizabeth Warren responds to tense criticism on plan to forgive student loan debt

SASHA PEZENIK

Sen. Elizabeth Warren responds to tense criticism on plan to forgive student loan debt originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

A tense exchange in the selfie line after one of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's recent Iowa town halls is picking up traction, as one voter confronted the 2020 presidential candidate, saying her plan to forgive student loan debt would "screw" hard-working people.

The man said her plan to cancel student loan debt would also target those who paid their own college tuition or who had already paid off their debt.

(MORE: Elizabeth Warren campaign lays out strategy for primaries and beyond)

"I just want to ask one question," the man said, approaching Warren in Grimes, Iowa this week. "My daughter is getting out of school. I've saved all my money. She doesn't have any student loans."

"Am I going to get my money back?" he asked.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, speaks at We The People 2020: Protecting Our Democracy After Citizens United at Curate in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 19, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/AP, FILE)

Warren responded, "Of course not."

The moment has been shared and re-shared on Twitter from multiple sources, notably including a self-described Make America Great Again account where it has been retweeted 18,000 times, liked 44,900 times and has over two million views.

"So you're going to pay for people who didn't save any money and those of us who did the right thing get screwed?" the man asked.

Warren denied that those who work hard will get "screwed," but the man disagreed, growing heated.

"Of course we do," he said, adding "we did the right thing, and we get screwed," before striding off.

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Student loan forgiveness has been a thorny issue for Warren and fellow progressive contenders like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Warren's plan calls for eliminating student loan debt of up to $50,000 for households making under $100,000 annually, which would apply to around 95% of borrowers and wipe out debt entirely for 75% of borrowers. She said she would finance it through her wealth tax.

Sanders' plan pledges to eliminate all of the $1.6 trillion of student loan debt in the U.S. held by 45 million Americans; the plan would include all private and graduate school loan debt and would apply to all persons regardless of income. The cost, he said, would be paid for by taxing Wall Street speculation.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, center, poses for photos with attendees after speaking at a campaign event, Jan. 19, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Patrick Semansky/AP, FILE)

Critics question the feasibility of such sweeping plans, which spark big cheers among campaign rally crowds of students, or former students -- but the plans also raise long-brewing questions about the price tag of higher education and who should pay for it.

Some voters also take issue with whether perceived bailouts are the answer and if it would even address the root cause of the national student debt crisis.

Asked about the moment in Grimes on "CBS This Morning" on Friday, Warren responded outlining her plans to cancel debt.

"Look, we build a future going forward by making it better," she said, pointing to her own modest upbringing. "By that same logic what would we have done? Not start social security because we didn't start it last month for you?"

(MORE: Warren slams Bloomberg for his news organization not covering Democrats)

When asked if she's saying "tough luck" to hard workers, Warren said "no."

She turned the conversation back to her own modest upbringing.

"Back when I was growing up, my family didn't have any money to send me to college, but there was a $50, a semester opportunity out there," Warren said. "So kids didn't have to go into debt a part time job would get you through that world is gone, and we need to open it back up again."

She added, "We want to be an America of expanding opportunities, not an America that's cutting off opportunities."

PHOTO: Democratic Presidential Candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren heads to the Senate floor for the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Jan. 24, 2020, in Washington. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Making her way back to the Senate chamber as a "juror" for the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump, Warren answered more questions from reporters.

Asked if, under her plan, people who paid off their student loans made a "bad financial decision," Warren said "not at all."

MORE: 66% call for witnesses in Trump's impeachment trial: Poll

"I'm glad they were able to do that," she said. "But we have to live in an America where we make things better."

ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.