President-elect Donald Trump announced last week that he was tapping Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos to be his education secretary — but, apparently, she wasn’t his first choice.
Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Virginia’s Liberty University, the largest evangelical university in the United States, told the Associated Press that he had met with Trump in New York earlier and was offered the job of U.S. education secretary. He turned it down, he said, for personal reasons.
The Trump transition team did not immediately respond to a query about Falwell’s comments. It has not been publicly said that anyone other than DeVos was offered the job.
Falwell, a lawyer, has led Liberty since the 2007 death of his father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who founded the university. Falwell, one of the country’s best-known evangelical leaders, endorsed Trump to be president in January, just before the primary/caucus season began, and welcomed him to the university campus to address students. In mid-November, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Falwell had said he had talked to Trump about his interest in helping to reform higher education. The paper said on Nov. 15:
Falwell, an early and engaged supporter of the billionaire businessman, knows him personally and was in New York for his election last Tuesday. Since then, Falwell has spoken with the next president and with Vice President-elect Mike Pence about his interest in serving the new administration.
“I let them know one of my passions is reforming higher education and education in general,” Falwell said in an interview Tuesday.
“I told them I’d be willing — I have a lot of responsibilities here — but I’d be willing to serve in some capacity that sort of brings education back to some form of sanity.”
The Associated Press has now reported that Falwell said Trump offered him the job of education secretary but insisted that he stay in the position for at least four years. Falwell said he did not want to leave Liberty University for more than two years and so he declined the position.
DeVos, who did not support Trump during the presidential campaign, is active in Christian communities. As my Post colleague Sarah Pulliam Bailey wrote in this story:
DeVos is politically known in Michigan for her push for private school voucher programs, a position that has been controversial within public education circles. But in religious circles, the DeVos name is synonymous with key philanthropic efforts in Christian communities. DeVos, 58, graduated from Calvin College, a Christian Reformed Church school that is named after the famed Protestant reformer John Calvin, where the DeVos name is well-known.
The DeVos family, heirs to the Amway Corp. fortune, are prolific donors in Michigan Republican and religious circles. DeVos is a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman whose husband unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2006. . . .
DeVos has been member and an elder at the large nondenominational Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, which was formerly led by popular author Rob Bell. Former president of Fuller Seminary Rich Mouw said he served on a committee with her to replace Bell, and he said DeVos is heavily influenced by Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch writer and Calvinist theologian. . . .
Her policy positions on school vouchers appear to be motivated by her Christian faith. When her children were school-age, she visited the Potter’s House Christian School in Grand Rapids. She told the Philanthropy Roundtable that parents “were doing everything in their power to have their kids in an environment that was safe, where they were learning, and where the atmosphere was just electric with curiosity, with love for one another.” DeVos and her husband began supporting individual students, and that “grew into a larger commitment.”
During the campaign, Falwell defended Trump against various charges and became a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board. When a 2005 video was leaked in October exposing Trump’s comments about sexual assault, Falwell condemned the statements but continued to back Trump. He told reporter Rita Cosby at the time:
“There was nothing defensible. It was completely out of order, it’s not something I’m going to defend . . . it was reprehensible. We’re all sinners, every one of us. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t. We’re never going to have a perfect candidate unless Jesus Christ is on the ballot.”