Mitt Romney’s idea to quell student protesters: Don’t forgive their college loans

The Utah senator’s co-sponsorship of the No Bailouts for Campus Criminals Act comes after 20 individuals — including five students — have been arrested while protesting at the University of Utah in support of Palestine.

The thousands of people who have been arrested in a wave of pro-Palestinian protest encampments on college campuses would not have access to student loan forgiveness under a bill introduced on Tuesday by Sen. Mitt Romney and 18 of his Republican colleagues.

A news release from the Utah senator’s office labeled the protests calling on institutions to sever ties with Israel “antisemitic.” The death toll in Gaza has risen to a point that authorities are no longer able to keep track, but believe it is somewhere over 34,000. Around 1,200 Israelis were killed in attacks on southern Israel in October.

Students at the University of Utah first established an encampment on the west side of campus Monday, and police wearing riot gear forcibly cleared the encampment later that night. As protests have continued, the number arrested has risen to 20 — five of whom are students.

If passed and signed into law, Senate Republicans’ No Bailouts for Campus Criminals Act would punish student protesters convicted of a crime.

“The Biden Administration’s student loan relief schemes are unfair and irresponsible — forcing hardworking Americans to pay off debts they never agreed to take on — and I introduced the Student Loan Accountability Act in 2022 to block these schemes,” Romney said in a statement.

He continued, “But no one should especially support a taxpayer bailout for students who engage in the criminal behavior we’re seeing on college campuses across the nation right now. Our legislation ensures that students convicted of a crime while protesting at our institutions of higher education are ineligible for federal student debt relief.”

Democrats in Congress have been split on how to respond to the encampments — some have supported arrests, while others have said such measures violate the First Amendment.

“Some of us have been out of school for a while and may have forgotten our American history,” Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats, posted on X Wednesday night. “Protesting injustice and expressing our opinions is part of our American tradition and what makes this, in fact, a free country. That’s what the Constitution is all about.”

Sanders chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, of which Romney is a member.

Utah’s four congressional representatives all voted “yea” Wednesday on the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which would empower the federal government to crack down on protests by widening what is legally considered antisemitism to go beyond threats against Jews and include some criticisms of Israel.