Shortly after the Democratic presidential debate last month that featured an intense disagreement over school desegregation, President Donald Trump told reporters he’d be releasing a policy about “busing” in “roughly four weeks.”
So where is that policy? Does it exist yet? Anything could happen. But don’t hold your breath. In fact, for several reasons, the political signs suggest you should be pretty skeptical that it’s coming at all.
A quick refresher: Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., sparred over the proper role of the federal government in school integration at the Democratic candidates’ debate June 27. Harris, who as a child participated in a school desegregation program in Berkeley, Calif., that involved transporting students, accused Biden of taking the wrong side when he supported anti-busing measures as a senator in the 1970s. Biden countered that he simply didn’t want Washington to mandate desegregation approaches like busing. The argument caused a political firestorm over race, Biden’s political history, and educational equity.
Two days after that exchange, Trump said the following when a reporter asked him about “federally mandated busing” as a policy: “And as far as that, I will tell you in about four weeks, because we’re coming out with certain policy that’s going to be very interesting and very surprising, I think, to a lot of people.”
Based on that timeline, we followed up with the U.S. Department of Education and asked for comment. As in June, the department referred us to the White House, which did not respond to a request for comment.
In his remarks to the media last month, Trump also said the following:
“Well, it has been something that they’ve done for a long period of time. I mean, you know, there aren’t that many ways you’re going to get people to schools. So this is something that’s been done. In some cases, it’s been done with a hammer instead of velvet glove. And, you know, that’s part of it.
But this has been certainly a thing that’s been used over the--I think if Vice President Biden had answered the question somewhat differently, it would’ve been a lot--it would’ve been a different result. Because they really did hit him hard on that one. So--but it is certainly a primary method of getting people to schools.”
Some might read those remarks and wonder the extent to which Trump fully understood the issue and promised a proposal off the cuff. Yet his reference to a “hammer” and “velvet glove” also might suggest he understands the political sensitivity involved.
There have been several reasons to question that the Trump team would follow through.
- U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ stated plainly last month, shortly before Trump’s comments about busing, that Trump doesn’t think education is a top priority. That argues against a controversial new K-12 initiative from Trump.
- The Trump administration has already revoked Obama-era guidance to promote K-12 diversity, as well as a separate piece of guidance intended to address racial disparities in school discipline. Officials think such matters are better left to states, districts, and educators. It’s difficult to imagine that his team would pull a U-turn and move to promote busing, redrawing attendance zones, and other methods of desegregating schools.
- Trump could go in the opposite direction and come out forcefully against busing or desegregation strategies. Why? It could fire up his strongest political supporters and keep the heat on Biden. On the other hand, any such move would give Democrats an easy chance to unite against it.
- Early in his term, Trump talked up a huge White House proposal to boost infrastructure spending. While his team released a set of priorities for infrastructure projects, the idea of a major White House push to get a bill passed through Congress faded away—think about how “Infrastructure Week” became a sort of running joke. Perhaps a busing policy, irrespective of whether Trump has mentioned it once or 50 times, is in for a similar fate.
- As far as legislation, getting 116th Congress to take up and pass any legislative proposal on the issue would be quite the challenge.
- Trump sometimes suggests something will happen “in about two weeks” or so, but it doesn’t come to pass. Maybe this was just a variation of that statement.
Remember that although Harris strongly attacked Biden’s past stance on busing, in subsequent comments she distanced herself from the proposition that the federal government should frequently mandate busing today. She utlimately seemed to settle on the idea that Washington should only intervene in this way when local communities work to oppose integration. After the debate, Harris cosponsored a bill in Congress, the Strength in Diversity Act, that would support districts that focus on racial diversity.
Photo: President Donald Trump welcomes the 2019 National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson and State Teacher of the Year winners to the Oval Office eariler this year. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)