Betsy DeVos, the Michigan billionaire President Trump tapped as his education secretary, delivered answers Monday to the more than 1,000 questions put to her by Democrats on the Senate Education Committee, just one day before the panel is set to vote on her confirmation. The Democrats said they were not satisfied with her responses on critical questions.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is set to vote on her confirmation at 10 a.m. Tuesday, a week later than it was originally scheduled. On Monday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the committee, urged the chairman, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, to delay the vote again, but Alexander declined.
The DeVos nomination has become as controversial as any of Trump’s Cabinet picks. Her supporters see her as a champion of school choice. Critics say her advocacy in education proves she wants to privatize public education.
The pitched battle over her nomination intensified over the weekend and Monday. Supporters began running paid advertisements on the Internet urging the Senate to confirm her, while critics rallied on Capitol Hill to oppose her and more calls against her surfaced. More than 1,400 members of the community at the elite Williams College released a letter objecting to her confirmation, saying that her refusal to “support federal policies regarding educational systems that receive public funding” was disqualifying.
During her Jan. 17 confirmation hearing before Alexander’s committee, she failed to show an understanding of some key education issues, and Democrats later submitted questions to her to answer before the vote. Alexander moved the committee vote from Jan. 24 to Jan. 31 to give her time to answer the questions.
Democrats asked her, according to Alexander, 837 follow-up questions, some of them with several parts, amounting to a total of 1,397 questions. DeVos delivered the answers at about 10:30 a.m. Monday, about 24 hours before the vote. Democrats on the committee were not impressed.
Murray’s office released this statement:
“After an initial review of the responses sent to committee members with less than 24 hours before the scheduled vote, staff has identified a number of critical questions about Ms. DeVos’s financial disclosure to the committee and other areas that have not been answered to anywhere close to satisfaction. Sen. Murray does not believe that members of the committee have enough information about Ms. DeVos’s opaque finances, conflicts of interest, and other issues — and she once again urges Chairman Alexander to postpone this vote until all reasonable questions are answered fully and appropriately.”
Alexander’s office said Monday that the hearing would go on as scheduled, and it pointed to something Alexander had written last week:
“Now she is answering 837 written follow-up questions from Democratic committee members — 1,397 if you include all the questions within a question. By comparison, Republicans asked President Obama’s first education secretary 53 written follow-up questions and his second education secretary 56 written follow-up questions, including questions within a question. In other words, Democrats have asked Mrs. DeVos 25 times as many follow-up questions as Republicans asked of either of President Obama’s education secretaries.”
No education secretary nominee has even been anything close to being as controversial as DeVos is after decades of pushing for charter schools and voucher/voucher-like programs, which use public money to pay for private and religious school tuition.
DeVos has referred to the public education system as “a dead end” and said “government really sucks” — characterizations that her critics say show she has no respect for or dedication to traditional public schools that educate the vast majority of America’s schoolchildren.
Murray’s questions covered a wide range of education issues, from civil rights to for-profit colleges to virtual schools and enforcement of the Every Student Success Act — the successor law to No Child Left Behind. She was also asked questions about her finances. DeVos and her family are large donors to the Republican Party, including to five members of the committee that is voting on her nomination.
The last question says this:
“139. Do you believe that it is likely that your extended family will continue their long-standing
pattern of giving to candidates, PACs, parties and other 527 organizations at the
state and federal level if you are confirmed?”
The answer: Yes.