Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for education secretary, appeared before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for her confirmation hearing Jan. 17. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

Former senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut on Tuesday introduced Betsy DeVos at her Senate confirmation hearing for education secretary in the upcoming Trump administration — and in the process he dissed the entire education establishment.

DeVos is a Michigan billionaire tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to run the Education Department. Supporters see her as a tireless advocate for school choice while critics say she has spent decades working to privatize the public education system.

Lieberman — a member of the board of the organization that DeVos founded, the American Federation of Children — talked about DeVos in glowing terms and said she has helped hundreds of thousands of children.

“She is disciplined, organized, knows how to set goals and then develop practical plans to achieve them. She is really a purpose-driven team builder,” he said. He noted that the Department of Education is bigger than anything she — or virtually all of the senators on the panel — had ever run but said she is ready to take on the task.

And then, he said: “I know that some people are questioning her qualifications to be secretary of education, and too many of those questions seem to me to be based on the fact that she doesn’t come from within the education establishment. But honestly I believe that today, that’s one of the most important qualifications you could have for this job.”


Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to be the next secretary of education, prepares to testify during her confirmation hearing with former senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington on Jan. 17, 2017. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

To Lieberman, then, working within the public education system is disqualifying to run the Education Department. Understanding, from the inside, how the system works, isn’t a qualification.

So what is a qualification to Lieberman?

“She has many others. She’s a mother and a grandmother. She cares about children more generally, and she has been involved in education, like so many parents and local citizen school board members across America for almost 30 years,” he said. And he noted that she isn’t only a “philanthropist and advocate for reform” but also “mentors students in the public schools of Grand Rapids, Mich.

“And here’s another important qualification: She will ask the right questions,” he said.