President Trump announced in an executive order signing on free speech on college campuses that his administration would be looking "very seriously" at student loan debt and ways to curb it and make universities share the load.
In somewhat surprising remarks for the Republican president, Mr. Trump appeared to blame universities for the debt load, and said his administration will find ways to hold them accountable. Specifically for now, the president is directing the Education Department and Treasury Department to publish information on earnings and debt loads for every major at every institution.
"Student loan debt, I'm going to work to fix it. because it's outrageous what's happening. You're not given that fair start. You're too far down. It's not right and we're going to work very, very hard to get it fixed," the president said.
The president's executive order Thursday is meant to pressure schools to permit free speech and expression on college campuses. Mr. Trump has threatened to pull federal funding if they don't. The First Amendment already prohibits the government from quashing free speech.
The move comes as some conservative groups and activists claim conservative voices are being silenced on college campuses. Recently, a conservative activist with Turning Points U.S.A. was apparently assaulted at the University of California, Berkeley campus. The president announced at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this month that he would be signing such an order, standing alongside the alleged victim, Hayden Williams. It's unclear how Mr. Trump's order would have protected Williams.
"If they want our dollars, and we give it to them by the billions, they've got to allow people like Hayden and many other great young people and old people to speak," Mr. Trump said at CPAC. "Free speech. If they don't, it will be costly. That will be signed soon."
Mr. Trump, in talking about student debt, said he loves other people's money.
"I've always been very good with loans. I love loans. I love other people's money," Mr. Trump said.
The president said his administration is working on student loan debt.
The Department of Education and Treasury Department, he said, will be required to publish information on future earnings and debt loads for every major at every school.
"Student loan debt, I'm going to work to fix it. because it's outrageous what's happening. You're not given that fair start. You're too far down. It's not right and we're going to work very, very hard to get it fixed. But we're going to start with 43 million people in the United States are currently working to pay off student loans and we'll be talking about that very soon. We're going to work on that very soon."
The president invited a handful of students on stage to share their stories.
One young woman said her school stopped her from handing out Valentine's Day cards with religious messages on them. Another young woman said she was told to place trigger warnings around campus to share her message.
The president said taxpayer dollars shouldn't subsidize universities that quash free speech.
"Taxpayer dollars should not subsidize anti-First Amendment institutions," Mr. Trump told his audience.
Mr. Trump said this executive order is the first of a number of steps that will come.
The president launched into his remarks by saying it was an honor to have so many "impressive" young Americans at the White House.
The president praised the students in the room for standing up to political "indoctrination."
"You refuse to be silenced by powerful institutions and closed-minded critics," the president said.
Mr. Trump, taking up the mantra from conservative groups like Turning Points U.S.A. and the Young Americas Foundation, has threatened federal funding for college campuses in the past.
"If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?" Mr. Trump tweeted in February 2017 after Berkeley disinvited far-right inflammatory speaker Milo Yiannopoulos. These days, Yiannopoulos has mostly been shunned from even conservative speaking engagements.
And in 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions called for a recommitment to free speech on college campuses.
Mr. Trump has been exercising his ability to say what he wishes -- a little too liberally -- according to his critics and even some Republican lawmakers who have condemned his repeated insults leveled against the late Sen. John McCain.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump launched into his longest attack on the late P.O.W. during a stop at a tank factory in Ohio, criticizing the senator for more than five minutes of an hour-long speech. The pro-military crowd was silent as he spoke.
"I endorsed him at his request," Mr. Trump told the crowd Wednesday. "And I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted. Which as president, I had to approve. I don't care about this - I didn't get thank you. That's OK. We sent him on the way, but I wasn't a fan of John McCain.
"So now what we could say is now, we're all set, I don't think I have to answer that question but the press keeps - 'what do you think of McCain? What do you think?' Not my kind of guy, but some people like him and I think that's great," Mr. Trump added.