An apparent vetting document created when then President-elect Donald Trump was considering appointing Betsy DeVos as education secretary flagged her reservations about Trump’s personality and policy positions that lasted through the 2016 GOP convention, where she cast a vote for Ohio Gov. John Kasich as an at-large delegate.
“Our party needs to be one of openness, recognizing that we live in an increasingly small world,” DeVos told The Hill in a July 2016 article quoted in the document. “And of course we need to have good trade deals, but the notion that we would put walls up around our nation is just not a tenable position. That said, I understand the anxiety and the frustration that he has clearly tapped into.”
Axios posted the document Sunday night as part of a leak of vetting files it says it recieved through a leak of nearly 100 documents from Trump’s transition that include files of several cabinet appointees and others considered for administration positions. After Trump was elected, he fired former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as head of his transition team, and Republican National Committee staffers helped with the vetting, Axios reported. On its HBO show Sunday night, Axios said it verified the documents with four sources.
Trump announced he wanted DeVos to be secretary less than a month after being elected. Beyond that, it’s not clear what if any impact the dossier has had on DeVos’ standing at the White House. She’s outlasted several other cabinet secretaries, and publicly shrugged off Trump’s decision to back off cutting federal aid to the Special Olympics in his most recent budget plan, hours after DeVos defended eliminating money for it. On the other hand, she’s failed to win backing inside the Beltway for her school choice push, and Trump reportedly doesn’t hold her in particularly high esteem.
DeVos’s dossier includes details that were largely known and discussed in her contentious Senate confirmation hearings before Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie to confirm her to the position.
Among the details:
- DeVos told reporters her family chose not to contribute to the Trump campaign and opted to focus instead on Senate races during the 2016 campaign.
- DeVos contributed directly to or to PACs affiliated with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and businesswoman Carly Fiorina during the campaign.
- DeVos’s mother contributed $450,000 to a campaign to ban same-sex marriage in California.
- The dossier also notes that in 2014, DeVos spoke out against Dave Agema, a Republican National Committee member from Michigan, for negative comments he made about gays and Muslims. In 2017, the Trump administration yanked Tim Kelly, its first nominee to lead career and technical education work under DeVos, after reports that he criticized Muslims and efforts to recruit women into the sciences.
- The document notes DeVos’s work with the Foundation for Excellence in Education, founded by Bush, and notes Bush’s support for the Common Core State Standards, which Trump pledged to end as a candidate. It also notes her seat on the board of the American Enterprise Insititute, whose vice president called Trump “an idiot” during the campaign.
- Part of the DeVos dossier that follows the mention of her brother Erik Prince, the founder of the military contractor Blackwater, is redacted, as is a paragraph of the section documenting her policy views. Axios said it redacted “personal details that weren’t newsworthy, information from spurious sources, and material the vetting team described as rumors about contenders’ personal lives.”
- The file flags a $5.2 million fine levied against DeVos’s school choice group, All Children Matter, for funneling money between state-level political action campaigns that support choice and school voucher efforts.
- The file notes DeVos’s support of Vice President Pence on school choice. “It’s not just a rhetorical record, he feels it in his heart of hearts,” she said in an Education Week post quoted in the document. “I think he would bring a very keen and focused perspective on the importance of education and education choice in particular.”
DeVos’s file is relatively low on controversy compared to some of the other documents Axios posted. Among them: Concerns that political opponents of former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, then under consideration for Homeland Security Secretary, had accused Kobach of having ties to white supremacist groups.
DeVos’ chief of staff Nate Bailey provided a comment to Axios.
“Secretary DeVos has spent more than 30 years helping disadvantaged students unlock better educational opportunities,” he said. “That’s why the president said he selected her, and that’s what she focuses on as secretary every day. Old items about other members of her family hardly seem relevant.”
Photo: President-elect Donald Trump poses with Betsy DeVos after he announced plans to appoint her as U.S. secretary of education in November 2016. Carolyn Kaster --AP