Democratic senators grilled Donald Trump's choice to be education secretary in a hearing last week
Sen. Lamar Alexander explained his reasoning for not giving a second hearing in a letter Tuesday
Sen. Lamar Alexander rejected a Democrat’s request for a second hearing with Betsy DeVos on Monday, sparing Trump’s pick for secretary of education from what would surely be a contentious hearing.
Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, traded letters with Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat, who requested a second hearing for DeVos after all of her paperwork was approved by the Office of Government Ethics.
Even pro-Trump Republicans conceded that DeVos’ delivered a lackluster performance in her confirmation hearing, where the Michigan Republican seemed unaware of certain federal education laws, argued that her decades in the leadership of her mother’s foundation was a “clerical error” and appeared confused by certain teaching concepts when pushed by Democratic senators. Democrats also pushed DeVos about her desire to push for more access to charter, home and religious schools as Secretary of Education.
The hearing led many Democrats to believe that DeVos, a woman who straddles two immensely wealthy and politically active Republican families, could be their best chance to thwart a Trump cabinet nominee from getting approved.
“I have carefully considered the request and decided not to schedule a second hearing, and here is why: Already Mrs. DeVos has spent considerably more time answering questions of committee members than either of President Obama’s education secretaries,” Alexander wrote in his letter to Murray. “I do not know why our committee should treat a Republican nominee so differently than the nominee of a Democratic president.”
It is no surprise that Alexander would not allow a second event. The chairman only allowed one round of questioning during the first hearing, arguing that he was following the “golden rule” because that is how former President Barack Obama’s two education secretaries were treated.
“We were extremely disappointed at what happened at the hearing last week for Elisabeth ‘Betsy’ DeVos, President Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of Education,” Murray wrote in her letter to Alexander.
Like several of Trump’s Cabinet picks, DeVos has tremendous wealth. Forbes estimates DeVos and her husband, Dick, are worth upwards of $5 billion. She has also donated to at least four of the senators who heard her testimony on Tuesday.
She has also given millions to groups that advocate for school privatization and voucher programs, including the American Federation for Children, a group she chaired from 2009 to 2016.
DeVos’ conflict of interest paperwork is complicated because of her wealth and the Office of Government Ethics had not approved her paperwork before her confirmation hearing. The government ethics office approved her paperwork last week, however, leading Senate Democrats to argue they deserve another round of questioning now that her paperwork is available.
“We would like to ask Ms. DeVos additional questions we were prevented from asking this week given we did not know all of the financial and ethical information that has now been shared with us, as well as address additional questions that have arisen from the OGE paperwork,” Murray wrote.
Alexander rejected that argument in his letter, writing that DeVos is currently answering “837 written follow-up questions,” some which have to do with her financial information.
The Senate committee will vote on DeVos’ nomination on January 31, a week later than what Alexander originally proposed.