Ames gets another cup of Joe Biden

Joe Biden speaks at a “community event” on Jan. 21 at the Gateway Conference Center in Ames.

Amber Mohmand

Former Vice President Joe Biden drew attention to education reform and closing the student debt gap to an older audience Tuesday. 

“In a college town, there should be a lot of students and there was not,” said Paul Allen, an international and non-degree liberal arts and sciences specials student at Iowa State.

The event was scheduled to take place at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, and Biden arrived to speak at 2 p.m. in the Gateway Conference Center.

The last time Biden was in Ames, he spoke in the Memorial Union at Iowa State. 

Allen, along with Iwan Jones, who is also an international and a non-degree student in engineering specials, said they wanted to learn more about the United States political system.

“We’re international students, and we’re just here for the year, so we want to try to get the full American experience and part of that is the politics, obviously,” Allen said. “Biden being the [former] vice president, it’s a pretty big deal for us to see.” 

Biden said he wanted to cut the existing student loan payback program to five percent and write off any existing debt after 20 years. 

“I propose to take the existing student loan program that’s out there now saying that ‘you would only have to pay back 10 percent of the disposable income,’” Biden said. “[…] I’d cut that in half to five percent and in over 20 years if you [are still] paying, it’s all written off. If you get involved with public service […] you can write off $10,000 a year in debt up to $50,000.”

The type of public service can include teaching in public schools, enrolling in the Peace Corps and working in women’s shelters. 

Shea Seiff and Deepak Jonnalagedda were former Cory Booker staffers and came to the event to learn more about the different candidates. Booker ended his presidential campaign Jan. 13, which he said was due to low poll numbers and lack of donations.

The two said they have been exploring different candidates to support for the Iowa caucus. 

“This is my first candidate event that’s not Cory’s,” Seiff said. “Just a candidate that can bring people together […] you need someone that’s not going to bring the Democrats and unite the party but bring more a diverse coalition together to really beat Trump. A candidate that’s really going to work on an opportunity and justice for all.” 

Seiff and Jonnalagedda said they wanted to see if Biden spoke about mass incarceration, the war on drugs and criminal justice reform. 

“I definitely want a candidate that will legalize marijuana and expunge records, end the war on drugs, end private prisons — that’s definitely something that’s a big deal for me,” Jonnalagedda said.

Biden did not speak about mass incarceration, though he did speak about education reform which included doubling the number of school psychologists, teachers and nurses. Biden said he wanted to increase the salaries for students and create more educational opportunities for children. 

“The second [thing I would] do is make sure everybody three, four and five years old goes to school, not a daycare, not head-start, school,” Biden said. 

Biden is currently the frontrunner in polls of likely Democratic voters nationwide, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average, and has retaken the lead in the organization’s polling average of likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers, with a 3.7 percent lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is in second place.