In case you missed this bit of news, President Trump recently tapped Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to lead a new commission to investigate issues affecting the safety of America’s schools and to make recommendations about how to improve it.
That was revealed Tuesday when DeVos testified about her proposed 2019 budget to a House appropriations subcommittee, and she was asked about the commission’s makeup and purpose. She said the panel will have only four members — all of them members of Trump’s Cabinet.
Prompted by a question from Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), DeVos said she will be joined on the panel by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
There are no school security experts on the panel, no Democrats, students, teachers, administrators or anybody else who has dealt with these issues.
Clark wanted to know why: “Is that it? Just four Cabinet secretaries?” she said.
DeVos responded: “This is an urgent matter. We want to ensure sure that we are able to move and operate as quickly as possible, without getting bogged down in bureaucracy.”
She also said commission members, who will start work in “a couple of weeks,” will meet with security experts and others while they do their work, holding forums across the country.
During a “60 Minutes” appearance this month, DeVos told CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl that she believes arming teachers “should be an option” for states and communities. During Tuesday’s budget hearing, DeVos was questioned about this view, considering that recent polls show a vast majority of educators oppose giving weapons to some teachers.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut — the highest ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies — asked DeVos if she would reconsider her position if a majority of parents and educators opposed using federal funds to arm and train teachers.
DeVos responded: “That an important discussion and an important consideration.”
The two went back and forth briefly and DeVos said: “It is an important matter for discussion in addition to many other factors that play into a culture of violence that I think we can all agree has taken root in our country. There are many issues to be addressed here. The president has advanced a number of very common sense steps,” at which point DeLauro said, “We’ve not talked about banning assault weapons, but that’s another issue.”
DeVos would not say whether she would reconsider her support for arming teachers.
Last week, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, met with DeVos about the commission. Afterward, she released a statement saying she was “extremely disappointed” with the meeting and that she has “no confidence that this commission will be anything other than a tool for continued distraction and delay.” It also said:
I was hoping that Secretary DeVos would be able to talk to me about real and meaningful steps she could move quickly on as head of President Trump’s new gun commission, but everything I heard from her in our conversation suggested that this is just the latest effort to delay and shift the conversation away from the gun safety reforms that people across the country are demanding.
While Secretary DeVos said she had no interest in meeting with the NRA as a part of this process, she couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me how the NRA would be allowed to influence the commission’s recommendations, or even that they wouldn’t have veto power. She couldn’t tell me how quickly the commission would move, or give me any kind of clear timeline at all. She wouldn’t agree to put survivors of gun violence, families of victims, or experts on preventing gun violence on the commission — in fact, she told me that the only people on the commission would be federal officials. And she pushed back and asked for continued delay when I suggested that we start by quickly addressing the most common-sense gun safety policies supported by the vast majority of Americans — like universal background checks and raising the age for purchasing assault weapons.