Democrats on the Senate education committee are asking for a second day of hearings on Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary. However, they were swiftly rebuffed by the committee’s leadership.
On Monday, the Democrats wrote to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the committee chairman, saying they had unresolved concerns about DeVos’ financial investments and potential conflicts of interest, and that during the first hearing last week, they were not given enough time to ask DeVos questions.
“We would like to ask Ms. DeVos additional questions we were prevented from asking [last] week given we did not know all of the financial and ethical information that has now been shared with us, as well as address additional questions that have arisen from the [Office of Government Ethics] paperwork,” reads a portion of the Jan. 23 letter. “In particular, we believe it is important to ask her questions around companies she will continue to own that are directly impacted by the Department of Education and this administration’s education agenda.”
On Friday, we wrote that DeVos had filed a financial disclosure letter and had agreed to resolve actual and potential conflicts of interest related to her investments, which include financial backing for a private child-care provider, as well as an indirect investment in a web software company for K-12 athletics. Alexander originally said that if DeVos’ disclosure ethics paperwork were filed by Friday, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee would vote on her nomination Jan. 24. However, that vote has now been delayed until Jan. 31, in order for senators to review DeVos’ paperwork, according to Alexander.
UPDATE: An aide to Alexander said there will be no additional hearing days for DeVos.
“Betsy DeVos has already met with each committee member in their offices, spent nearly an hour and a half longer in her Senate hearing than either of President Obama’s education secretaries, and is now answering 837 written questions—1,397 including all the questions within a question—that Democrats have submitted for her to answer,” the aide said. Those numbers are far higher than they were for former President Barack Obama’s education secretaries, Arne Duncan and John B. King Jr., during their confirmation processes, the aide noted.
At her Jan. 17 confirmation hearing, Democrats pressed DeVos hard on special education, measuring student improvement, and guns in schools. They also consistently registered displeasure with Alexander’s handling of the hearing, during which he limited questioning of DeVos to one round, with five minutes allotted for each senator.
The text of the Democrats’ letter asking for a second hearing is below:
Dear Chairman Alexander:
We were extremely disappointed at what happened at the hearing last week for Elisabeth “Betsy” DeVos, President Trump’s nominee to be secretary of education. We believe it is our job as senators to question nominees, fully explore their records, and understand, on behalf of our constituents, the positions they will take at the agencies. Last week, however, instead of anything approaching an appropriate and reasonable level of robust scrutiny, Democrats were cut off from asking additional questions beyond a single round, which is unprecedented in the committee.
Education is too important an issue, and the secretary of education is too important a position for the country and for this committee, to jam a nominee through without sufficient questioning and scrutiny. This is not about politics, it should not be about partisanship—it should be about doing the work we were elected by our states to do to ask questions of nominees on behalf of the people we represent.
Now that we have received all of the paperwork from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), we request Ms. DeVos appear for a second day of hearings before the HELP Committee prior to the committee scheduling a mark-up on Ms. DeVos’ nomination. We would like to ask Ms. DeVos additional questions we were prevented from asking this week given we did not know all of the financial and ethical information that has now been shared with us, as well as address additional questions that have arisen from the OGE paperwork. In particular, we believe it is important to ask her questions around companies she will continue to own that are directly impacted by the Department of Education and this administration’s education agenda. We believe the opportunity to ask such questions is consistent with the responsibilities and practices of this committee.
We appreciate your consideration of this request and look forward to the opportunity to more fully understand Ms. DeVos’ views and positions.