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Democratic Senators Seek Hearings on Education Department Nominees

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 07, 2017 2 min read
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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos may not yet have announced who will serve in top positions at the Education Department during her tenure—but Democrats are already saying they want hearings on any nominees for those spots.

In a March 7 letter, seven Democratic senators on the Senate education committee formally asked Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee, for hearings on nominees to “critical positions” at the department. The senators don’t list all the positions for which they’d like hearings on the respective nominees. But in their letter, they note that the committee has previously held hearings on several high-profile political appointees, including those for assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education and the assistant secretary for civil rights.

In the letter, the senators were also blunt about their view that DeVos lacked significant experience in higher education policy specifically—for example, they cite her response to senators’ questions about postsecondary finance that “individuals with whom I work in the department will ensure that federal monies are used properly and appropriately.”

“Given these responses, we have an obligation to question the individuals with whom Secretary DeVos will work in the Department and whom she admittedly expects to rely upon to protect the integrity of our higher education system,” the senators wrote.

The Trump administration has not yet nominated people to the positions the letter singles out.

The letter was signed by Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. (Sanders is officially an independent but caucuses with Democrats.) During DeVos’ January hearing before the committee, Sanders and Warren in particular pressed DeVos about her views on issues like college affordability and student loans.

In response, an aide to Alexander said in a statement that, “Once the nominations are made, Sen. Alexander will confer with Sen. Murray and announce an appropriate process to ensure that the Secretary has the staff in place in a timely way to serve the nation’s students.”

The letter’s ask may be a tough one, though. The fight over DeVos’ confirmation was easily the most rancorous of any nominee for education secretary. And it’s worth noting that Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the education committee, didn’t sign the letter. An aide to Murray told us that while she is “pleased and supportive of these efforts by her colleagues,” Murray doesn’t normally sign on to letters to Alexander.

Read the full letter.

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