If you were hoping Betsy DeVos’s terrible, horrible, very bad, no-good week would drive her to quit as U.S. education secretary, this is going to disappoint you.
In fact, she appeared Friday before a friendly audience at the National Review Institute’s Ideas Summit in Washington and said with a big smile that she still likes her job. Onstage, DeVos talked about education with Jay Nordlinger, a senior editor of the National Review:
NORDLINGER: I’m glad you’re education secretary. Are you?
DEVOS: I am indeed. Yes, most days I am.
Let’s be clear: People who like their job “most days” don’t usually quit because of a few bad ones — especially those, like DeVos, who find themselves in a position of power to influence government policy and regulations around beliefs fervently held for decades.
Besides, it’s not the first time this has happened to DeVos, and she weathered the previous storms.
During her 2017 confirmation hearing, she was asked whether she thought guns belonged in schools and referred to one Wyoming school and said, “I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies.” And she did not seem to understand that states could not choose whether to comply with the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.
Her confirmation by the Senate was the first in U.S. history to require a vice president to break a tie. She has been living with opprobrium for a while now.
In 2018, she testified before Congress and was blasted for, among other things, being unable to explain the mission of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.
DeVos’s troubles this week began in earnest Tuesday when she testified before a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee to defend her proposed 2020 department budget. It included cuts to some special education programs and elimination of federal funding for Special Olympics.
The proposed cut to Special Olympics, which gives people with intellectual and physical disabilities the chance to compete in athletics on a world stage, struck a nerve with lawmakers.
“I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children in your budget,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said. “You zero that out. It’s appalling.”
When Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) asked her why she had proposed cuts to special education programs, she said “difficult decisions” had to be made.
In fact, the elimination of funding for Special Olympics had come from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, but DeVos’s job was to defend the whole budget.
Criticism from coast to coast blew up on just about every platform there is. By the time Thursday rolled around and DeVos appeared before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee to talk about the budget, the dissonance was deafening.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) told her the budget decision was “shameful” and that whoever came up with that idea should get “a Special Olympics gold medal in insensitivity.” Even Republican lawmakers said they didn’t approve.
On Thursday afternoon, Trump announced he would allow the Special Olympics funding to be put back into his budget request. Congress would not have approved the cut anyway. Trump and DeVos sought the same elimination of funding in the two previous budgets, but lawmakers didn’t go along.
After Trump’s announcement, Pocan said he was glad Trump changed his mind but also said this, as my colleague Laura Meckler reported:
“Someone has to pull Betsy out from under the bus. This isn’t fair to her. At some point, she’s got to decide, do you really want to be the secretary of education so badly that you let your boss do this to you?”
DeVos didn’t talk to reporters about the episode, but she surely doesn’t see the situation the way Pocan does.
She and her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., heir to the Amway fortune, have spent many years advocating and funding efforts to expand alternatives to publicly funded school districts.
She told Nordlinger that she “never had a goal or dream of being education secretary.”
“But,” she said, “when the opportunity arose, I could not say no.”
Don’t expect her to leave the job anytime soon.