Fact Check

Did Pelosi Say the President Does Not Have 'the Power for Debt Forgiveness’?

The House speaker also allegedly said that debt forgiveness “has to be an act of Congress.”

Published Aug 25, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 24: U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a press conference about prescription drugs and lower health care costs at Southeast Health Center Clinic on August 24, 2022 in San Francisco, California. Speaker Pelosi met with health care professionals and local residents who will benefit from provisions in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act that will lower health care and prescription drug costs. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Image Via Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
U.S. House Speaker Pelosi once said: “People think that the President of the United States has the power for debt forgiveness. He does not. He can postpone. He can delay. But he does not have that power. That has to be an act of Congress.”

Fact Check

Shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled his plan for student loan forgiveness in August 2022, the right-leaning online publication National Review reported in an article published on Aug. 24 that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president lacks the authority to forgive student debt.

During a weekly news conference held on July 28, 2021 (archived here), Pelosi was asked to explain why the Biden Administration and Democrats in Congress were pushing for student loan debt forgiveness and cancellation, she replied:

Here's the thing. People think that the President of the United States – is this more on the subject than you ever want to know? Well, you'll let me know. People think that the President of the United States has the power for debt forgiveness. He does not. He can postpone. He can delay. But he does not have that power. That has to be an act of Congress. And I don't even like to call it forgiveness because that implies a transgression. It's not to be forgiven, just freeing people from those obligations.

So, the question of who gets forgiven – to use the term of art that is out there – is a debate. Do we use whatever money there is for the broadest base of support of the, those with – more people with even less debt, or fewer people with more debt? That's a policy discussion.

But the difference between the President – the President can't do it. So that's not even a discussion. Not everybody realizes that. But the President can only postpone, delay, but not forgive.

Nevertheless, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that he would be using executive action to push forward a student loan forgiveness plan that allowed up to $20,000 in student debt cancellation for qualified borrowers, following up on promises made on the 2020 campaign trail. At the time of this writing, it’s not yet clear how exactly that forgiveness plan would work, and, as The Associated Press reported, it will likely face legal challenges in the months to come. The three-part plan has not officially been executed and specifics haven’t been released.

Because Pelosi did, in fact, state that the president does not “have the power for debt forgiveness,” we have rated this claim as a “Correct Attribution.”


“Big Student Loan Forgiveness Plan Announced by Biden.” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/ap/2022/08/24/big-student-loan-forgiveness-plan-announced-by-biden/. Accessed 25 Aug. 2022.

“Flashback: Nancy Pelosi Said President Lacks Authority to ‘Forgive’ Student Debt.” National Review, 24 Aug. 2022, https://www.nationalreview.com/news/flashback-nancy-pelosi-says-president-lacks-authority-to-forgive-student-debt/.

House, The White. “FACT SHEET: President Biden Announces Student Loan Relief for Borrowers Who Need It Most.” The White House, 24 Aug. 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/08/24/fact-sheet-president-biden-announces-student-loan-relief-for-borrowers-who-need-it-most/.

Lieber, Ron, and Tara Siegel Bernard. “What You Need to Know About Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Plan.” The New York Times, 24 Aug. 2022. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/24/business/biden-student-loan-forgiveness.html.

Minsky, Adam S. “Biden Announces Historic Student Loan Forgiveness Of Up To $20,000 And Extension Of Student Loan Pause: Key Details.” Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/adamminsky/2022/08/24/biden-announces-historic-student-loan-forgiveness-and-extension-of-student-loan-pause-key-details/. Accessed 25 Aug. 2022.

The Biden-Harris Administration’s Student Debt Relief Plan Explained. https://studentaid.gov/debt-relief-announcement/. Accessed 25 Aug. 2022.

“Transcript of Pelosi Weekly Press Conference Today.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 28 July 2021, https://www.speaker.gov/newsroom/72821-2.

Madison Dapcevich is a freelance contributor for Snopes.