Before her Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday evening, Betsy DeVos was just a polarizing nominee for education secretary. But before the hearing was even over — thanks largely to her insistence that schools might need guns to defend against “potential grizzlies” — she had become a viral meme.
And by Wednesday night, barely 24 hours after DeVos’s testimony, she had become a target for multiple late-night television comics.
Jimmy Kimmel suggested President-elect Donald Trump should have walked into DeVos’s hearing, after her grizzly remark, and told her “you’re fired.” On the Colbert Show, school surveillance cameras captured a grizzly — well, a man in a bear suit — acting as the class bully, offering one kid a cigarette in the bathroom and giving another a wedgie on the playground.
Trevor Noah also poked fun about DeVos’s “potential grizzlies,” on The Daily Show, saying that what schools really need are bears to protect kids from guns. But Noah also went long, devoting eight minutes to some of the more cringe-worthy moments of DeVos’s hearing performance — and to wonky education debates that don’t usually get a lot of popular attention.
“Of all Donald Trump’s picks, none seemed to be less prepared than the one we saw yesterday,” Noah said.
Noah used an exchange between DeVos and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) — over how to measure student performance — to make his case that DeVos is ill-prepared.
Franken asked DeVos about her views about whether standardized tests should measure students’ proficiency — whether they’re meeting grade-level standards, or growth, their progress over the course of a year. It’s the kind of nitty-gritty question that sounds obscure to anyone outside the education world, but it’s a subject that teachers and policymakers discuss all the time.
DeVos stumbled over the answer.
“I was kind of surprised — well, I’m not that surprised — that you don’t know this issue,” Franken said.
That caustic remark prompted wide eyes from Noah: “I would like to enter that shade into the record.”
He also played a rapid-fire exchange with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), in which DeVos repeatedly refused to directly answer Kaine’s yes-or-no question about whether she believes that all schools receiving federal funding — public, public charter or private — should be held equally accountable.
“She wants to take taxpayer money and send it to private schools without holding private schools to the same standards, which means the taxpayer could be paying for schools with less-qualified teachers, crappier curricula, weaker testing — and worse chicken nuggets in the cafeteria,” Noah said.
He went on to compare putting DeVos in charge of America’s education to “hiring an Amish person to run NASA.” And he said — after playing a clip of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asking DeVos about her family members’ estimated $200 million in donations to GOP candidates and causes — that she’s only headed for the helm of the Education Department because of her wealth.
“I feel like this hearing was the perfect metaphor for the worst of the education system in America,” Noah said. “Here’s a student who’s clearly not proficient in the required subject matter, but because of the system, we know they’re still going to get pushed through.”
During an appearance Wednesday morning on “Fox & Friends,” Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway defended DeVos’s performance and criticized Democrats for trying to score political points.
“This idea of humiliating and trying to embarrass qualified men and women who just wish to serve this nation is reprehensible, and not one child who needs a better education benefited from any of those incendiary questions yesterday, but of course Mrs. DeVos held herself with the grace and elegance that we know her to have,” Conway said.