President Donald Trump reversed himself on a budget proposal to cut nearly $18 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics.
“I’ve been to the Special Olympics, I think it’s incredible,” Trump told reporters at the White House Thursday. “I have overriden my people. We’re funding the Special Olympics.” He suggested that he had just learned of the proposed cut earlier in the day, even though it has been part of his last three budgets.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has spent the past three days defending the cut, said in a statement, “I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye to eye on this issue, and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant. This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes the last several years.”
The president’s decision comes just hours after DeVos stood up for the proposed cut in front of the Senate subcommittee that oversees K-12 spending. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., asked the secretary if she signed off on the proposal to eliminate the program, telling her, “Whoever came up with that idea gets a Special Olympic gold medal for insensitivity.”
DeVos told him the administration had to make tough choices in a tight budget year, and chose to keep funding for special education and disadvantaged students level, rather than fund the Special Olympics.
And she explained she’s a fan of the program, which promotes athletic competition and healthy living among people with intellectual disabilities, and has personally contributed to it in the past. But, she said, it is a private organization and can raise its own money. The federal funding only makes up a portion of the program’s roughly $150 million in revenue.
“I love the Special Olympics myself,” DeVos said. “Let’s not use disabled children in a twisted way for your political narrative.”
To be clear, Trump and DeVos don’t have the power to actually cut the funding for the program themselves. That’s up to Congress. This is the third year in a row that Trump has pitched eliminating federal funding for the program. For the past two years, Congress has rejected his proposal and funded the Special Olympics anyway.
Even before Trump’s remarks, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that deals with K-12 spending, had made it clear he planned to continue to fund the program.
Though it’s been part of the budget request for weeks, the proposed cut took on new meaning when Democrats on the House and Senate committees overseeing education spending took DeVos to task for the suggested cut, setting off a social media firestorm that quickly jumped to cable news.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who initially questioned DeVos about the cut, said he was pleased the administration had a change of heart.
“I’m extremely glad that the American people have convinced President Trump to do the right thing with Special Olympics. However, it shouldn’t take public outcry and shaming to restore funding to one of the nation’s most important special education programs,” he said in a statement. “And by the way, can someone pull Betsy from under the bus?”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Photo: President Donald Trump speaks to business leaders in 2017. —Evan Vucci/AP