MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to spend a few minutes talking about current issues in education, something we're going to do from time to time this summer when educators tend to have a bit more room in their schedules. We'll start with a lawsuit against the U.S. Education Department filed by the attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia over something called the Borrower Defense Rules.
Those were put into place by the Obama administration to allow students who borrowed federal money to have those loans forgiven if they attended a school that misled them or broke the law. The rules were supposed to go into effect July 1, but the Trump administration delayed them, hence the lawsuit. Karl Racine of Washington, D.C., is one of the attorneys general suing the Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos. And he's here with us now in our studios in Washington, D.C., to tell us more about that. Thank you for doing that.
KARL RACINE: Terrific to be here.
MARTIN: So let's note that all the attorneys general suing over this rule are Democrats. Why did you decide that the district should join this effort?
RACINE: Well, the district had a stake in this because we have many of our residents who have attended and been saddled with debt as a result of their attending these for-profit colleges.
MARTIN: So I think a lot of people are aware that the Obama administration pushed to offer this relief because of this wave of for-profit colleges that collapsed, leaving, you know, students with debts but no degree. Now the, secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, has argued that the goal is right but that the rule itself is wrong, that it's too confusing. And she also suggested that it might be opening the door to a lot of taxpayer relief, which may or may not be merited and, in essence, saying this administration deserves to take another look at it. What do you say to that?
RACINE: Well, what I say to that is, first, on the merits, I think that she's wrong. I think the Borrower Defense Rule has, as its purpose, the protection of people who were misled into taking these humongous loans for for-profit schools that didn't deliver what was promised. And what was promised was a meaningful education and a almost guarantee of employment. So the Obama rule provided an opportunity for vulnerable people - we're talking about veterans, a lot of working parents, a lot of minority students - who really sought opportunities to get a leg up in society and were essentially shammed. What the secretary has done is unlawful. She stayed the rule, meaning that the rule was to be effective July 1. And by doing so, she failed to adhere to the basic requirements of how to properly go about doing that.
MARTIN: That was going to be my question, which is, what are the grounds for the suit?
RACINE: So the suit is essentially based on something called the Administrative Procedures Act. What that act does is it provides rules as to how rules should be established and rules as to how rules should be abolished, reversed or rewritten. The Obama rule, in fact, took two years before it was established. Well, in no time, Secretary DeVos decided to essentially eliminate that rule.
MARTIN: So you're saying she's exceeded her authority. She doesn't have the authority to unilaterally change a rule or delay a rule that has gone through appropriate processes. Is that the gist of it?
RACINE: That's exactly right. What she has to do is allow people an opportunity to comment, transparently state why she's making the change and then have some time pass before the new rule is, in fact, implemented.
MARTIN: So let me just note in the time that we have left that this is one of two lawsuits that the district's participating in against the Trump administration - that D.C. is also suing the president along with Maryland for violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, in essence preventing officials from accepting foreign gifts or titles. And this is related to the fact that the Trump Hotel is, you know, up and running. So I'm curious about how you see your role as attorney general right now.
RACINE: So the role that Democratic attorney generals are playing - and I'll note that Republican attorney generals played this same role during the Obama administration. And so by bringing suit, we're taking the matter to a federal court to decide whether or not the president is violating that clause.
MARTIN: This is a jurisdiction in which the federal government plays a heavy hand in District affairs. And, you know, there's this old saying that if you sleep next to the bear, you don't poke the bear.
RACINE: Right. There's no doubt that we had to consider the risk of vindictive action on the part of the president or the Republican Congress. At the end of the day, we determined that our need to invoke a reasonable check and balance to ensure that the president is not violating the Constitution was worth the risk.
MARTIN: That's Karl Racine. He's the attorney general for Washington, D.C. He was nice enough to join us in our studios in Washington. Thank you so much for joining us.
RACINE: Thank you, Ms. Martin.
MARTIN: And I want to mention that we called the Department of Education. They sent us a statement. Here it is in part - quote, "with this ideologically-driven suit, the state attorneys general are saying to regulate first and ask the legal questions later," unquote. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.