Sep 13, 2022 - Podcasts

The GOP backlash against student loan forgiveness

22 Republican Governors sent a letter to President Biden on Monday, asking him to withdraw his student loan forgiveness plan. The governors are saying that only 16 to 17% of Americans have federal student loan debt and now the burden is being shifted to everyone, including low income taxpayers.

  • And, inside U.S. efforts to stop human smuggling in Guatemala.
  • Plus, beer could be in trouble.

Guests: Axios' Shawna Chen, Stef Kight, and Mike Deehan.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, September 13.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: Inside U.S. efforts to stop human smuggling in Guatemala. Plus, beer could be in trouble in Boston and beyond.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: backlash to student loan forgiveness intensifies.

NIALA: 22 Republican Governors sent a letter to President Biden yesterday asking him to withdraw his student loan forgiveness plan.

The governors are saying that only 16 to 17% of Americans have federal student loan debt and now that burden is being shifted to everyone including low income taxpayers.

Axios’ Shawna Chen has been reporting out this story – hey Shawna.


NIALA: Why is this backlash from GOP governors happening now?

SHAWNA: There's been a significant pushback from Republicans in general. We've seen Republican lawmakers write letters to the Biden administration also calling the forgiveness plan unconstitutional and illegal. These governors are kind of backing that up and pushing it from the state's angle, arguing that a lot of the burden will now fall onto their, you know, constituents who are lower income working class, who didn't have the same kinds of opportunities trying to say that that's who will lose the most in this case and in this way, call on Biden to withdraw the plan immediately.

NIALA: So the White House is saying nearly 90% of people benefiting from the student loan plan earn less than $75,000 a year. How exactly will the student loan forgiveness plan affect taxpayers, especially to Republicans points, low income taxpayers.

SHAWNA: What a lot of people miss, is that a significant percentage of student loan debtors don't get four year degrees. So that means they also don't get the income boost of a bachelor's degree and they're not earning the Wall Street salary that a lot of Republicans are claiming they do. And so that means that actually the loan forgiveness plan will benefit a population of lower income student loan debtors who, you know, will get a boost but are being ignored by the kind of back and forth between Republicans, Democrats about who's actually benefiting.

NIALA: So Shawna, I know generally when debt is forgiven, that counts as taxable income. And in this case with the student loan forgiveness, the Biden administration has said the federal government is not going to tax this, but what are different states saying about this?

SHAWNA: Some states have already said that they are going to actually tax the amount of loans forgiven, for each student debtor. And that means that if you are a lower income person, who is having their loan forgiven, then you are actually having, now an additional state tax. And this includes actually states both Democrat led and Republican led.

NIALA: Is there any possibility President Biden will change his mind about this plan?

SHAWNA: I don't think it's very likely and I think Republicans know that, they've really doubled down on this and the White House has even tried to, you know, take to social media to actually hit back at Republican lawmakers who have claimed that, this plan as a handout, so I think it's safe to say that they are pretty clearly behind this plan.

NIALA: We've talked about Republicans, we've talked about the White House. What are we hearing from other Democrats about how they're responding to all of this?

SHAWNA: Well, I definitely think that some Democrats running in battleground Senate and House races are kind of trying to distance themselves from the plan, but a lot of Democrats have come out and praised Biden's decision. Senator Sanders recently said, “I don't hear any of these Republicans squawking when we give massive tax breaks to billionaires.” And I think that's largely the belief in thinking for a lot of Democrats and progressives in particular.

NIALA: Axios reporter Shawna Chen. Thanks Shawna.

SHAWNA: Thanks Niala.

In a moment, how the U.S. and Guatemala are working together to dismantle human smuggling networks.

Inside U.S. efforts to stop human smuggling in Guatemala

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

The US Department of Homeland Security has been training Guatemalan police to stop human smuggling, trafficking, visa fraud, and other crimes that affect American security. This year alone, they've dismantled four smuggling networks. The agents that fight these crimes are part of the transnational criminal investigative units known as TCIU and Guatemala has the largest TCIU in the world. They made 800 of 2,500 worldwide arrests last year.

Axios’ Stef Kight got an inside look on the ground in Guatemala to how these teams are working. Hey Stef.

STEF KIGHT: Hi, Niala.

NIALA: Stef this is the first time a US reporter has been given this level of access to these tactical operations. What did you see?

STEF: I got to see quite a few things. One of the things I gotta watch was, us agents provide a first of its kind training to some of these Guatemala agents where they taught them how to safely clear a room from outside of the doorway. And I also gotta watch them execute a search warrant in one of the neighborhoods outside of Guatemala City where there was a suspect who they raided his house and collected evidence of the creation in sale of fake US visas.

NIALA: Stef, DHS is putting tens of millions of dollars into these TCIUs. What's the goal here on behalf of the American government?

STEF: So the funding comes both from the Department of Homeland Security and also the Department of State. It really is an interagency effort on these TCIUs. And the goal here is to help these foreign law enforcement crack down on human smugglers, human trafficking, visa fraud, because the us doesn't have jurisdiction to arrest criminals in other countries. So they have to rely on the foreign law enforcement. But lots of times in some of these countries, the foreign law enforcement doesn't have the same level of resources that we have in the US. And at worst, sometimes they're riddled with corruption. And so this is a way for the US to work around those issues and come alongside carefully vetted people who are already in the law enforcement agencies in these foreign countries.

NIALA: What happens when the TCIU makes these arrests, do they then go into the Guatemala criminal justice system?

STEF: Yes. Typically after suspects have been arrested by the TCIU they will face prosecution in Guatemala. There are sometimes though when these suspects will be extradited to the US. For example, last month, there was a very high profile case where four migrant smugglers who were arrested in Guatemala are now facing extradition to the US. And this is actually a pretty historic move because Guatemalans have never yet been extradited to the US for human smuggling.

NIALA: Stef, What does all of this mean for migrants and asylum seekers coming from Central America into the US?

STEF: You know, when it comes to the reasons why people decide to migrate to the US, it's very complicated. And there are the push factors, the reasons on the ground for why people leave. There's poverty and sometimes people cite political persecution or gang violence in their home countries, and that pushes them to leave. There's also the idea of America that pulls people towards the US, the idea of having better jobs. Maybe they know family members who are already in the US. But then there is this third element of, uh, human smugglers who have learned how to make a profit off of these people who are also incentivized to get people to move towards the US. And it's that part of the equation that the TCIUs are trying to focus on.

NIALA: Stef, what was it like for you personally to be on the ground in Guatemala? What are you taking away from this?

STEF: It was a great opportunity just to really dig deep into a part of the immigration and smuggling situation that, honestly, doesn't tend to get a lot of coverage. Typically, immigration is a very political issue with Republicans focusing on domestic policies and Democrats focusing on the issues on the ground. And, both of those things have their place. But this is actually one area where there is a good bit of bipartisan support for cracking down on criminals who really do take advantage and often endanger people who are desperate in trying to get to the US.

NIALA: Stef Kight is part of Axios Politics Team. Thanks Stef.

STEF: Thanks for having me.

Beer could be in trouble

NIALA: Beer consumption is up in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic – but like many industries, beer is running into supply chain issues. As Axios Boston's Mike Deehan tells us – that could make it harder to come by.

MIKE DEEHAN: A shortage of carbon dioxide—the stuff that makes beer fizzy—is making some smaller brewers nervous about having to raise prices or even about a craft beer shortage. Most micro breweries have to buy their CO2 separately and supply line issues and contamination from, I kid you not an extinct underground volcano in Mississippi, have forced up prices and limited what's available. Larger macro breweries have an easier time. Recapturing CO2 that vents during fermentation, and then adding it back into their brews. Aeronaut brewing company co-founder Ron Friedlander told Axios Boston they've been running delivery to delivery of CO2 the past few weeks and are worried about getting their beer to market.

NIALA: That's Axios Boston's Mike Deehan.

And that does it for us today! You can always email our team at podcasts at or you can text me directly at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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