Ariz. senators to vote on Betsy DeVos’ contentious student loan rule

Sen. Krysten Sinema (left) and Sen. Martha McSally. Photos courtesy U.S. House of Representatives

WASHINGTON — Arizona’s senators are expected to vote soon on whether to torpedo a controversial regulation from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that her critics say hurts defrauded student loan borrowers.

Senate Democrats are planning to force a vote in the coming weeks on the rule under the Congressional Review Act, a law that allows Congress to overturn federal rules within 60 days after they’re finalized. The U.S. House voted in January to reject the so-called borrower defense rule from DeVos. 

The resolution to reject the rule faces an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump has already threatened to veto the measure, but the vote presents a messaging opportunity for congressional Democrats heading into the November elections. 

It’s unclear how Arizona Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally will vote on the effort led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Neither Arizona senator is among the resolution’s 42 co-sponsors (all of whom are Democrats or independents who caucus with Democrats). 

McSally’s office did not respond to a request for comment about whether she intends to vote to overturn the rule; a Sinema spokeswoman declined to comment. 

The Trump administration’s borrower defense rule represents an overhaul from the Obama administration’s policy. During Obama’s tenure, consumer protection claims began to pile up  from students who had been enrolled in for-profit colleges. A big spike in claims came after the closure of Corinthian Colleges, which left hundreds of thousands of students in debt and with an education of little value.

The Obama administration set up a system of loan forgiveness in cases of institutional misconduct. But DeVos rewrote the Obama-era rule, which she thought was too lenient and costly for taxpayers. 

Critics say the new policy doesn’t provide sufficient protections for defrauded students and creates unfair hurdles for borrowers seeking relief. 

“The only winners here are the predatory schools that the DeVos rule shields from accountability,” Durbin said in a press release urging his colleagues to support his effort to overturn the rule. For-profit colleges were among the most vocal critics of the Obama rule. 

Durbin told reporters recently that “a lot of” Republicans had expressed an interest in his effort. 

Arizona ranks No. 15 in student loan default rate, according to the most recent data compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, with roughly 11.4% of student borrowers in default on their loans.

McSally has gotten financial backing from members of DeVos’ family this election cycle. Her Senate campaign received $22,400 in March from DeVos’ in-laws – Michigan conservative donors and heirs to the Amway fortune, federal records show. McSally received another $5,600 from Pamella DeVos, another family member and conservative donor, in November.  

Sinema last year received a $1,000 campaign contribution from the political action committee of Alticor, the Amway parent company run in part by the DeVos family. 

Both McSally and Sinema have also received campaign contributions from the for-profit education sector, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. 

McSally has received $61,450 from the sector during her congressional career; Sinema has received $68,721. 

Their offices did not respond to questions about whether those campaign contributions might influence their vote on the borrower defense rule. 

Opponents of the Trump administration’s policy are pressuring both Arizona lawmakers to reject DeVos’ overhaul. 

“Senators Sinema and McSally face a choice: either vote to ensure defrauded Arizona student borrowers can be made whole — or rubberstamp the Trump administration’s scheme to protect the profits of crooked diploma mills,” said Derek Martin, director of the consumer watchdog organization Allied Progress.