Hitting the campaign trail in Iowa on Wednesday for the first time as a presidential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis road tested new policy ideas for handling student debt and boosting military morale.
In Salix, Iowa, DeSantis said universities should have to pick up the tab if a former student can’t pay back their loans. Later, in Council Bluffs, DeSantis said that he, if elected, would offer back pay to veterans who reenlist after leaving the military due to Covid-19 vaccine requirements.
For DeSantis, who provided few details on his first-term agenda in his official launch on Twitter last week and in Tuesday’s campaign kickoff event in Des Moines, Wednesday’s events offered an early glimpse into the ideas he will bring to the race as he seeks to convince Republicans he is best positioned to take on President Joe Biden in 2024. Both suggestions are near to issues DeSantis has championed as governor – overhauling higher education to remove perceived liberal influences and pushing back against coronavirus mitigation measures widely credited with ending the pandemic.
A DeSantis campaign spokesperson told CNN more specifics on all of DeSantis’ policy proposals will come as the campaign progresses.
DeSantis’ pitch to remedy the country’s mounting student loan debt – amassing $1.6 trillion nationwide as of last year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York – he said will force universities to change their approach to preparing students for the workforce. The proposal comes as House Republicans negotiated for student loan payments to restart by the end of August as part of the debt ceiling deal with Biden – a pact DeSantis has criticized.
“If somebody defaults, the university should pick it up,” he said. “If they were on the hook for it, they would make sure the curriculum was designed to produce people that can be very productive. You’d have a heck of a lot less gender studies going on.”
DeSantis as governor has banned diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public colleges as well as gender studies majors. DeSantis added that “we do believe in universities, but they got to be done in a good way,” meaning “rooted in the traditional mission of the university classical education.”
Speaking from a welding warehouse in Western Iowa, DeSantis – himself a product of two Ivy League schools – also highlighted his administration’s efforts to emphasize trade and apprenticeships as an alternative to four-year degrees.
“It’s sending the message to young people that you’re not better because you got a four-year degree,” he said.
Later in the day, while touting his time in the US Navy as a JAG officer, DeSantis argued the US military is “indulging woke ideology” that negatively impacts recruitment.
“They’ve driven off some of our greatest warriors not just through that culture, but also through dumb policies like forcing m-RNA Covid shots on our service members,” DeSantis said.
In January, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin rescinded the military’s Covid-19 vaccination mandate for troops. The coronavirus vaccine was added to the list of required inoculations in August 2021, leading many conservatives to surmise it would hinder recruitment, a suggestion the Pentagon denied was occurring.
“Why would you want to drive them off by doing things like forcing them to take a shot that they don’t want and sure enough, many people left,” DeSantis said at the second of four stops across Iowa. “As president, we will restore everybody back who wants to come back and we will give them back pay as a result.”