If President Barack Obama nominates an honest-to-goodness education secretary, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the Senate education chairman, will move to immediately confirm him or her, Alexander said Tuesday.
“I said to President Obama at the [Every Student Succeeds Act] signing ceremony in December that I would strongly recommend that he nominate an education secretary, that I didn’t think it was appropriate to go a whole year, the last year of his term, and not have someone confirmed and accountable to the Senate,” Alexander said at a hearing. “And if he would send him or her up, I’d pledge to have an immediate hearing and markup and, barring some kind of scandal, work to have that person immediately confirmed. And I still hope the president will do that.”
It doesn’t look like the White House is moving on a nomination any time soon. Last week, Josh Earnest, the president’s press secretary, told the Washington Post he didn’t think Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King would get a fair shake from a “stridently partisan” Republican majority.
But Alexander (who, after all, just helped shepherd through a bill with broad bipartisan support) said a confirmed secretary is especially important given the role that King and his team will play in implementing ESSA.
“If he sends someone up, we’ll have a hearing right away so we have an education secretary for this last year, especially when we’re implementing a law that may govern elementary and secondary education for a while,” he said.
For his part, King has said the nomination is up to the White House. But he doesn’t feel hamstrung by his “acting” designation—the acting secretary has all the same power as a full-fledged cabinet official, he said last week.
King isn’t the only “acting” official at the department. At least two other folks with key roles in implementing ESSA are in that position: Ann Whalen, who is a senior advisor filling the duties of the assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education; and Amy McIntosh, technically a deputy secretary who is essentially working as the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development.
That’s par for the course at the tail end of an administration, said Marshall Smith, who is retired, but has worked on education for several different presidents, including Obama.