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Rep. Ayanna Pressley on abortion rights access, Roe v. Wade, student loan forgiveness

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the outlook on abortion rights access for Americans and a proposed House bill to further student loan forbearance and forgiveness.

Video Transcript

- Well, the student debt moratorium expires at the end of August, and millions of borrowers are waiting for President Biden to cancel at least some of theirs before that date arrives. The White House says that debt forgiveness is a priority, but hasn't offered a date as to when they might take action on this $1.7 trillion issue.

Well, joining us now to discuss is Yahoo Finance's Ronda Lee and Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. So thank you to you both. Congresswoman, you were among the dozens arrested on the steps of the Supreme Court Tuesday about-- during the abortion rights protests, so we're going to first start there. What sort of momentum are you seeing, and what would you still like to see happen?

AYANNA PRESSLEY: Yes, I was there in an act of civil disobedience in my role-- well, one, just as a woman, but in my role as chair of the Abortion Rights and Access Task Force under the Pro-Choice Caucus. This is the first pro-choice majority Congress in the history of Congress. That must mean something. And I think we've proven that it does, which is why twice we have passed the bill of which I'm a co-lead with Congresswoman Judy Chu, the Women's Health Protection Act, to enshrine Roe.

So the people's House has acted twice, and now we need for this Senate to act. This is an issue of health care justice. Abortion care is health care. It is a racial justice issue, when you consider the black maternal morbidity crisis, where black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth. There are projections that could increase by some 33% with the prospect of forced birth-- and writ large, that maternal mortality could increase by 21%.

So this is a matter of life and death. It is a public health crisis, and I'm calling on the Biden administration to declare a public health crisis so that he will have the flexibility and racial resources to address it as such. I thank the administration for being responsive to and heeding the calls of myself and other advocates. The executive orders that were rolled out last week are an important step in the right direction to protect medication, abortion, and also to guard against the criminalization of providers and patients.

But we must enshrine Roe. We must pass the Women's Health Protection Act. And I believe we must also declare this a public health crisis. I'm fortunate to represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which passed the Roe Act several years ago. So we are one of those safe haven states. Our state legislature has made robust investments to ensure reproductive access for those that will be traveling to safe haven states.

The House also passed legislation to protect travelers who are seeking health care. But this is not a drill. This is not a crisis. This is for those who have ectopic pregnancy. The only way we can save their life is through abortion care. Those who've suffered a miscarriage-- the only way that they can at times expel that fully is through abortion care. And of course, ultimately, this comes down to a matter of freedom, bodily autonomy, and one's right to decide when or if to start a family.

RONDA LEE: Congresswoman, this is Ronda. I want to pivot a little bit and talk about the student loan crisis. So we have a deadline of August 31 with the extension of the forbearance. What is happening? Because we have students that, back when this was extended a few months ago-- it's like, what's happening? Are we going to get student loan forgiveness? What's on the table? Are we going to see forgiveness happen by the end of the year? Are we getting a forbearance? What's happening with the administration? What are you guys doing to try to make the lives of students who went in debt-- because we were told student loan debt was good debt to try to further their education-- what are we going to do to help them?

AYANNA PRESSLEY: Well, you started this discussion talking about an act of civil disobedience at the Supreme Court. Similarly, student debt was an issue that people tried-- many tried to marginalize, and saw student debt cancellation as something that would be regressive in impact. But because of the strength of this movement, I believe we are closer than ever before to getting this done.

And in fact, we have been successful three times now in getting the administration to pause a student loan payments during the pandemic. And we saw how impactful that was. People were able to remain safely housed, to purchase essential goods. Some people became first-generation homebuyers. So canceling student debt is good economic policy, and it's also a racial justice issue, given the disproportionate burden on black borrowers.

And in fact, in May, I was back at the White House. We've been in ongoing discussion with the White House about this issue with leadership from the Congressional Black Caucus, appealing for urgent action here in advance of the expiration of the most recent student loan pause. This is a racial justice issue. That's why you see the presidents of historically black colleges and universities using ARPA funds to cancel student debt.

And again, black students borrow at higher rates because of policies like redlining, which have denied our families the ability to build generational wealth. This is an intergenerational crisis impacting parents who took out Parent PLUS loans, and now can't retire because they took those loans out to send their children to school. I have grandparents 76 years old in my district on fixed incomes, still paying student loans-- educators, young parents who can't start a family, purchase a home, start a business.

So this is a nearly $2 trillion crisis, and we must go as far and as deep as the hurt is. And that's why we're calling on President Biden to use executive action by the stroke of a pen and to do broad-based student debt cancellation at $50,000.

- Now, Congresswoman, I want you to help clear up some of the myths, because we are seeing some Republican lawmakers pushing back. We heard Tom Rice saying that knowledge that the government can forgive this debt with the stroke of a pen will lead more borrowers to take on more debt, and the Representative Kevin Brady saying-- he called it basically a giveaway to highly educated college graduates. What's your response to that?

AYANNA PRESSLEY: That is completely inaccurate. That is a falsehood. And this movement has worked hard to diversify the narrative, to show just how impactful this is. In fact, recently, myself, Senator Warren, and Leader Schumer met with presidents from our labor unions, and this is an issue for their workers. And this is AFL-CIO, the NEA, AFT.

This is an issue of consequence for millions of Americans, and they are deserving of immediate and urgent relief. We have got to alleviate the burden that families are feeling and eliminate a bill at a time when people's expenses and bills are tighter than ever before.

RONDA LEE: Congresswoman, I want to pivot again to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program that was extended into October 31. What I'm hearing from teachers, from people who went in to the public defender's office, the prosecutor's office-- they've put in their applications. They're being denied. So I'm like, they've done their job. They went in, they worked hard, they gave to the school districts, and they're getting denials.

And everyone says, just keep reapplying. What is being done at the administrative level to make sure that, one, they're processing these claims, and that the people who given generously actually get what they signed up for?

AYANNA PRESSLEY: Well, to that point, that is exactly why we're pushing for broad-based student debt cancellation by executive action. It's something that the president can do that would be effective, impactful, and automatic. That's really key, not only were there bureaucratic challenges with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, but we also saw with the borrowers from Corinthians, as one example, those that have been abused by the deceptive business practices and predatory marketing of for-profit colleges and universities that, even after there was progress to make them whole, that it took many years for them to actually receive restitution and to get those funds back.

And so that's the thing about executive action. The president has the authority. The same authority that has been used for this pause on student loan payments can be used again executive action by the stroke of a pen requiring no action from Congress. Unilaterally, we can alleviate this hardship and these burdens for millions, from every walk of life-- as I said, teachers who went into debt because they want to teach our babies, and they can barely afford the monthly minimum; seniors on fixed income still paying loans saying, I'm going to die, still owing on this; an entire generation that has been burdened by and in the chokehold of this debt.

And again, it is a racial justice issue. There are projections that with broad-based student debt cancellation at $50,000-- we can close the racial wealth gap by 30%. So this is impactful, transformative legislation. It is good policy. And I'm expecting, with the drumbeat of pressure that we kept up in our ongoing communications, that there will be an action taken.

And I hope that we will see it sooner, rather than later, because a third pause that we fought for and that was granted on the student loan payments is coming to an end at the end of August in 40 days.

- And there's obviously 45 million Americans wondering what's going to happen-- a big thank you there. Yahoo Finance's Ronda Lee and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, thank you so much.