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Top Democrat Has ‘No Confidence’ in Betsy DeVos’ School Safety Commission

By Alyson Klein — March 13, 2018 3 min read
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Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., declared Tuesday that she is “extremely disappointed” with how U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is approaching her new gig as the head of a presidential commission on school safety.

Her statement came after Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the panel, met with DeVos to discuss school safety and the commission’s charge to make policy recommendations in the wake of the mass shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead.

“I was extremely disappointed at how the meeting went,” Murray said in a statement. “I was hoping that Secretary DeVos would be able to talk to me about real and meaningful steps she could move quickly on as head of President Trump’s new gun commission, but everything I heard from her in our conversation suggested that this is just the latest effort to delay and shift the conversation away from the gun safety reforms that people across the country are demanding.”

DeVos told Murray she isn’t planning to meet with the National Rifle Association, according to the statement. But the secretary “couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me how the NRA would be allowed to influence the commission’s recommendations, or even that they wouldn’t have veto power,” Murray said.

Murray was also miffed that she was unable to get information on the commission’s timeline for completing its work.

DeVos’ spokeswoman though, said Murray was giving an “inaccurate account” of the meeting and seeking to use it as “political stunt.”

“Secretary DeVos requested to meet with Senator Murray in hopes of having an open and honest dialogue about immediate actions that can be taken to keep our nation’s students safe at school and to seek her input as she works to organize the Federal School Safety Commission,” said Elizabeth Hill, the DeVos spokeswoman. “Unfortunately, Senator Murray was clearly more interested in relaying an inaccurate account of their meeting, squandering the opportunity and using it instead as a political stunt.”

For his part, Alexander, “had a productive first meeting with Secretary DeVos on the important issue of how to help keep students safe at school,” said his spokeswoman, Liz Wolgemuth. “He looks forward to working with the administration and colleagues in Congress on steps that the federal government can take to help our states and local communities improve the safety of our schools.”

The commission, which was announced Sunday, is exploring issues related to school shootings, including restrictions for certain firearm purchases, potential repeal of Obama-era guidance designed to address racial disparities on school discipline, character education, the effects of press coverage of mass shootings, and improved access to mental health treatment.

President Donald Trump and DeVos have said they’d like to help interested states arm school personnel who are experienced with weapons. They have also called for strengthening background checks and passing the STOP Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at allowing communities to use existing federal programs to combat school violence, in part by training school staff and law enforcement.

But the Trump administration has not moved to reinstate a federal ban on military-style weapons that expired in the early 1990s or sought other restrictions that survivors of the Stoneman Douglas massacre and gun control advocates have called for. Murray said that in the meeting DeVos “pushed back and asked for continued delay” on policies such as universal background checks and raising the age for purchasing such weapons.

Murray said she suggested to DeVos that the commission include survivors of gun violence, families of victims, or experts on preventing gun violence. DeVos declined to commit to including those perspectives on the committee, Murray said. Instead DeVos said the commission would be made up federal officials, according to Murray’s statement.

“I am hoping that Secretary DeVos gets a handle on this issue and changes her tune, but based on this meeting today, I have no confidence that this commission will be anything other than a tool for continued distraction and delay,” Murray said.

Hill, though, said that Murray was letting political divisions get in the way of solutions.

“This is just Senator Murray’s latest continuation of the tired, sad politics of division that has become standard for the Senate Democrats while refusing to seek out solutions that will make a meaningful difference for all Americans,” she said.

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