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Democrats Seek Delay for Betsy DeVos’ Confirmation Hearing Over Ethics Review

By Alyson Klein — January 08, 2017 2 min read
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Democrats want to push back a confirmation hearing for President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, until her paperwork detailing any potential conflicts of interest has been cleared by the congressional Office of Government Ethics.

The confirmation hearing for DeVos, a GOP megadonor and advocate for school choice, is set for Wednesday. She is one of a handful of Trump’s nominees whose ethics paperwork has not yet been cleared, prompting concerns from the OGE and congressional Democrats.

“It would certainly be concerning if nominees break from standard practice and don’t submit their ethics paperwork in advance of a hearing,” said Eli Zupnik, a spokesman for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in an email. “Making sure that nominees don’t have conflicts of interest and will truly put families across the country first is one of the most important jobs that the Senate has in this process, and we remain hopeful that it will not be rushed through and that Democrats and Republicans will be able to review the paperwork and have the opportunity to ask all reasonable questions.”

It doesn’t seem likely that Republicans will go along with the Democrats’ suggestion of a delay. It is committee tradition to wait until ethics paperwork is completed before holding a vote on a nominee, but not necessarily before a hearing, said an aide to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the committee chairman. The committee has held confirmation hearings for previous education secretary nominees, including Roderick Paige, before their ethics paperwork was complete, the aide said. (Paige’s hearing was on Jan. 10, 2001, but his ethics paperwork wasn’t finished until eight days later.)

The committee won’t vote on the nomination until the paperwork is in, the aide added.

What’s more, DeVos’ background check has been completed and Alexander has no concerns about its contents, the aide said.

Still, in 2009, when President Barack Obama’s nominations were under consideration, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who was then the minority leader, said he wanted ethics paperwork for all nominees cleared before their committee hearings. And both of Obama’s nominees for secretary of education—Arne Duncan and John King—had their ethics paperwork cleared before their hearings.

“It has been standard practice over the last eight years under a Democratic Administration to have the ethics letter in before a hearing,” Zupnik said in an email. “But it will be up to the Republican majority to decide if they want to reverse what Leader McConnell insisted on for President Obama’s nominees and rush President-elect Trump’s nominees through without an ethics letter.”

McConnell has said the full Senate won’t vote on Trump nominees until their paperwork is complete.

Even though the request for a delay isn’t likely to work, it’s one more sign that Democrats aren’t going to readily sign off on DeVos. In fact, she’s one of eight Trump nominees that Democrats are most hoping to defeat, or at least raise serious concerns about, through the confirmation process, according to the Washington Post.

It’s still far more likely than not that she will be confirmed, since it only takes a majority of votes to move a nomination and the Senate is controlled by Republicans. But a contentious confirmation process means that Democrats will be able to do tell their constituents, including the teachers’ unions and civil rights organizations who have expressed big worries about DeVos, that they did everything they could to keep her from taking the helm of the department.

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