01:46 - Source: CNN
Panel spars over Betsy DeVos' qualifications
CNN  — 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate’s education panel, met earlier this week after President Donald Trump announced that DeVos would chair a federal commission on school safety.

Since the Tuesday meeting, though, the two have traded barbs about the usefulness of that meeting and how to best curb violence in the nation’s schools.

Murray released a blistering statement after the meeting, calling it “extremely disappointing” and questioned whether the commission that the President established would truly help end deadly mass shootings or if it was only the “latest effort to delay and shift the conversation away from the gun safety reforms that people across the country are demanding.”

On Friday, Murray wrote a letter to DeVos, saying that she was “troubled and disappointed” by DeVos’ lack of specificity and detail, and called on her to release more information about how the committee will work, including how members will be selected, the scope of the work and how it will present its findings.

“It is my sincere hope that this commission will be more than mere window dressing, a delaying tactic, or a platform for ineffective, NRA-approved proposals that place the interests of the gun lobby above the protection of our families,” Murray wrote.

In response, Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill told CNN that DeVos has “no desire to engage in the senator’s stunts. She’s focused on solutions.”

“Secretary DeVos requested the meeting with Senator Murray to solicit her input early in the process of organizing the Federal Commission on School Safety because she genuinely wanted to hear the Senator’s thoughts and concerns,” Hill said. “Instead, the senator, once again, defaulted to her tired posture of partisan politics.”

“Now is not the time for that,” Hill continued. “It’s time to focus on making schools safe for our students and teachers.”

DeVos defended the creation of the commission in a CNN op-ed published Friday, saying “people retreating to the usual political corners and talking past each other” does not make students safer.

“There are best practices that are working today in communities across this country, and our commission will spotlight them and disseminate them to every school,” she wrote. “This will not be another 18-month Washington commission that yields an unreadable and unactionable report.”

DeVos made the rounds on Capitol Hill this week, meeting with both Murray and Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate’s education panel, as well as a host of other lawmakers.

Taylor Haulsee, a spokesperson for the Tennessee Republican, tweeted out a photo from Alexander’s meeting with DeVos and Murray and described it as “productive.” Haulsee said the chairman “looks forward to working with the administration and colleagues in Congress on steps that the federal government can take to help our states and local communities improve the safety of our schools.”

The meetings came days after DeVos was tapped by the President to lead the federal commission on school safety, and after she was the subject of television interviews that called into question whether she supported Trump’s approach to securing the nation’s schools.

White House officials were alarmed by the interview, and DeVos’ failure to defend the administration’s newly proposed school safety measures, according to two sources familiar with their reaction, and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders this week seemed to downplay the secretary’s role during her daily press briefing on Monday.

Asked whether DeVos would be the face of the commission, Sanders said, “I think that the President is going to be the lead on school safety when it comes to this administration.”

Sanders added that the focus is “not one or two interviews, but on actual policy.”

In a rare move, DeVos took to Twitter on Monday to defend her comments, suggesting that some of her comments had been unfairly left out of the interview when it aired.

“I’m fighting every day for every student, in every school – public and private – to have a world-class education. We owe that to our children,” she wrote.