On March 4, 2017, Kate McKinnon of “Saturday Night Live” portrayed Betsy DeVos as a know-nothing education secretary during a mock news conference given by Sean Spicer, the then-White House press secretary, who was being played by Melissa McCarthy. Well, McKinnon was back as DeVos on Saturday, March 17, 2018, in a bit at least as scathing as the first one.
The “Saturday Night Live” interview, in which McKinnon-as-DeVos chatted with Colin Jost during the “Weekend Update” segment of the sketch comedy show, started off with a reference to a conversation that DeVos had last week on “60 Minutes.” During that interview, she stumbled repeatedly while answering questions from Lesley Stahl about her education policies.
Comics have been having a field day with that interview, including Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” last week. He showed a clip of DeVos saying: “We should be funding and investing in students, not in school buildings.” To which he responded, “You know students are in those school buildings, right?”
Here’s how part of the “interview” went on this weekend’s episode of “Saturday Night Live”:
JOST: So, Betsy, what happened with that interview?
MCKINNON-as-DEVOS: I think the problem is that the words that were coming out of my mouth were bad, and that is because they came from my brain.
JOST: Well, tonight, we can give you another chance. Like, what are your thoughts of public schools versus charter schools?
MCKINNON-as-DEVOS: I don’t like to think of things in terms of schools. It should be up to the states. In Wyoming, for example, which has many potential grizzlies, there should be a school for bears, and, uh, in Louisiana, crocodile crossing guards. And in North Carolina, stop being trans, and that’s what best, you know, for them.
JOST: You might now be the most protested member of Trump’s Cabinet. Why do you think that is?
MCKINNON-as-DEVOS: I think it’s because I do not do a good job. And I can’t because I don’t know how.
JOST: All right, well, yeah. Well, lately, people have also been criticizing your position on guns in schools.
MCKINNON-as-DEVOS: Again, I think the states should choose how to best protect their schools based on their circumstances. For example, if two “Home Alone”-style bandits want to rob a school, that school should have the option of red-hot doorknobs or of a paint can that swings down a staircase. It’s that good school, good choice. So whatever they choose, we’re all working hard to ensure that all schools are safe learning environments for guns.
There was more back and forth, and she ended with this:
MCKINNON-as-DEVOS: I may not be good on camera, but behind the scenes, my ideas are much worse.
Last year, DeVos was satirized after her disastrous performance at her Jan. 17, 2017, Senate confirmation hearing, in which she could not answer basic questions about education policy and displayed confusion about whether the major federal law protecting the rights of students with disabilities was actually a federal law with which states had to comply.
The “grizzly” comment in the Jost “interview” referred to that confirmation hearing, when Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) asked her whether she would agree that guns don’t belong in schools. She said:
“I will refer back to Sen. [Mike] Enzi and the school he was talking about in Wyoming. I think probably there, I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies.”
That remark and others only fueled the controversy around her nomination. Critics said she was unfit for the job because she had no experience in public schools and because of her decades-long advocacy for alternatives to public schools and repeated bashing of the U.S. public education system. She was confirmed by the Senate only after Vice President Pence broke a 50-50 tie, the only vice president in U.S. history to do so for a Cabinet member.
During the “60 Minutes” interview, Stahl repeatedly challenged DeVos, at one point suggesting that DeVos visit underperforming public schools to learn about their problems. DeVos responded, “Maybe I should.” The secretary also said that she is “not so sure exactly” how she became, as Stahl described her, “the most hated” member of Trump’s Cabinet but believes that she is “misunderstood.”
Last year, she responded with humor to the McKinnon portrayal, saying in a March 13, 2017, speech:
I want to begin by taking a moment to introduce myself — beyond the headlines and SNL skits — although it is flattering to be portrayed by Kate McKinnon, a woman younger than my oldest son.