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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's comments that Obama administration regulations written to protect student borrowers entitled anyone who sought relief to "free money" are drawing fire.

The so-called borrower-defense rule was set to take effect July 1. But DeVos in June said she would block the rule and pursue a rewrite through a bureaucratic process known as negotiated rule making.

Speaking at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference Friday, DeVos defended her actions and said the rule was "rushed" through without review by Congress, according to reporting on her remarks by The Detroit News. She also said the rule could have cost the federal government $17 billion -- a reference to estimated costs over 10 years. “While students should have protections from predatory practices, schools and taxpayers should also be treated fairly as well,” she said. “Under the previous rules, all one had to do was raise his or her hands to be entitled to so-called free money.”

Democratic attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia have sued DeVos, seeking to have the Obama-era rule enforced. Meanwhile, more than 65,000 borrower-defense claims made under previously existing regulations are pending review. But a Department of Education official told Democratic lawmakers in July that no claims had been reviewed since the beginning of the Trump administration.

Ben Miller, the senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said the comments from the secretary showed an inability to express basic levels of empathy for suffering borrowers. "Even a cursory review of Obama policies on this matter would reveal a structured, lengthy process for forgiveness," he said.

Senator Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, said in a statement that it was telling that DeVos would blame students who were victims of fraud over for-profit colleges. "Secretary DeVos needs to stop listening to the for-profit and corporate executives she hired at the Department of Education and start providing the legally required relief to the students who have been cheated out of their education and savings," Murray said.