Washington — Dr. Jill Biden, first lady, admitted Monday that her goal to establish a government-backed free community college for all eligible students is unlikely to be realized.

The legislation is languishing at Capitol Hill. Senator Joe Manchin (a West Virginia Democrat) is its main opponent and says he will not do anything to bring it back to life as originally written. Manchin and other Democrats hope to salvage some of the proposals by passing far less restrictive legislation.

Biden stated to a national group of community college leaders that Congress had so far failed in its efforts to pass the Build back Better plan. “Free community college is not longer part of that package.” It was clear that this would not be an easy task — Joe has always stated that. But, I was still disappointed, just like you. These aren’t bills or budgets for me, just like you. We understand what these mean for students, and for real people.

She said, “And it was an important lesson in human nature that not all people get that.”

First ladies are not usually involved in policy debates. This is especially true when they have to admit that their main concern is the economy. Biden, however, is the first first lady to retain her full-time job as a professor at a community college. Her staff said that he’s keen to continue his engagement on the topic.

She isn’t giving up completely. She said that President Obama is still fighting for this issue and she didn’t give up. He doesn’t give up. He will keep his promise to rebuild the middle class. And he knows that community college do exactly that. He understands that you are our greatest resource, and our best investment. He will continue to fight for us.”


Last year, Mr. Biden presented his $3.5 trillion domestic policy agenda. It included plans for free community college and paid family and sick time, as well as free pre-Kindergarten. The proposal was rescinded to meet concerns of Senator Kyrsten Sinema (a Democrat from Arizona) and Manchin over the price. There were also no plans for a free community college or a paid leave program.

The House approved a draft of the social spending plan in November. However, the Senate rejected the bill in its revised form after Manchin declared in December that he would not support it.

At a press conference last month, Mr. Biden stated that he believed the Democratic-led Congress could approve pieces of his signature spending bill and that Democrats would have to “probably break it up.”

Last week, Manchin reiterated that the legislation was “dead.” He did not rule out the possibility of supporting a smaller bill.