Report: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Blames Trump Transition Team for Senate Confirmation Problems

Betsy DeVos
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

A Politico report states education secretary Betsy DeVos blames the Trump transition team for her confirmation process difficulties that overshadowed the fact she had been recommended for her post by both Jeb Bush and Mike Pence.

Within days of Donald Trump’s election victory, Betsy DeVos’s good friend Jeb Bush asked her if she would be interested in the top federal education post, and then asked Vice President-elect Mike Pence to recommend her for the job, the report says.

“He was really the only person I knew in the transition,” Bush told Tim Alberta, writing for Politico Magazine. “He was the best person, because he was running it.”

Bush added it turned out both he and Pence – two former GOP governors – had the same thought since both had worked with DeVos to advance their education agendas in their home states of Florida and Indiana, respectively.

“He made it clear that he was already thinking about Betsy, too,” Bush said of Pence.

Once DeVos was formally nominated by Trump, Bush announced publicly he was “excited.”

DeVos has been widely criticized by the conservative base of the Republican Party – a fact often left out when the focus is simply on condemnation of her school choice policies by teachers’ unions.

Though once nominated by Trump, DeVos announced she was “certainly … not a supporter” of Common Core, she made contributions of both her time and personal wealth to support pro-Common Core organizations that fought repeal of the controversial standards, including the Great Lakes Education Project in her home state of Michigan and Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education.

As Indiana governor, Pence signed a bill repealing Common Core in his state but then drew the ire of anti-Common Core parent groups when he approved a “rebrand” of the unpopular reform – basically Common Core with a few tweaks.

In addition to supporting Bush and his foundation, DeVos ultimately became an at-large delegate at the Republican National Convention last year for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, another supporter of Common Core.

DeVos has since angered conservative parents further by her statements that because of the new massive federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) “there isn’t any Common Core anymore” in the country’s schools. Most states, however, have continued to use the controversial standards, including those that have changed the name or “rebranded” them.

Jane Robbins, senior fellow at American Principles Project, observes at Truth in American Education, that Bush has given DeVos every reason to be proud:

DeVos … populated USED with bureaucrats from the Bush wing of education policy, including Democrat and Black Lives Matter supporter Jason Botel (since departed, after angering DeVos’s Michigan friends over that state’s ESSA plan). Conservative activists were disappointed and mystified by these choices, especially since there’s no shortage of solid, highly qualified Common Core opponents who were available.

Despite the support of Bush and Pence, DeVos’s Senate confirmation was far from smooth sailing, and ultimately required Pence as vice president to break a tie vote.

According to Alberta, DeVos says she was taken aback by the intensity of the confirmation process:

Teachers unions remain the most organized cell of the Democratic coalition, but much of the outcry over her performance was organic and owed to self-inflicted wounds: showing no understanding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; fumbling straightforward questions about accountability, proficiency and growth; citing grizzly bears in Wyoming as the reason some schools should be free to keep guns on premises.

“I think I was undercoached,” DeVos said, referring to the Trump transition team as the source of her difficulties with the Senate. She reportedly added:

The transition group was very circumspect about how much information they gave me about then-current policy and … it was in their view a balance between being prepared for a confirmation hearing and not having well-formed opinions on what should or shouldn’t change, so as not to get caught in a confirmation hearing making commitments that then I wouldn’t want to or be able to keep. And in hindsight, I wish I had a whole lot more information.

DeVos further expressed “irritation,” as Alberta notes, about being banned by the transition team from doing interviews.

“During the confirmation process, I wasn’t able to talk with the media at all. I wasn’t able to express anything from my perspective,” she says. “So it gave weeks and weeks of open shots for my opponents to take.”

While discussing various education policy changes since DeVos has assumed her post, Alberta observes the secretary has been blamed by some for the Trump administration’s reversal of former President Barack Obama’s public school transgender bathroom policy:

But that decision was made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions—who had jurisdiction on the matter—and one, according to people close to DeVos, she vehemently disagreed with. “I didn’t feel the timing was appropriate,” she tells me, measuring her words, in her first public break with the administration.

Immediately following a New York Times report in February suggesting that DeVos was at odds with Trump and Sessions over changing the transgender bathroom policy, DeVos released a statement that her department was “committed” to protecting LGBT students.

“I have dedicated my career to advocating for and fighting on behalf of students, and as Secretary of Education, I consider protecting all students, including LGBTQ students, not only a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America,” DeVos said.

According to the report, DeVos may be disappointed that her budget request for school choice funding was not honored by Congress, but says, ““Well, let’s keep in mind that this is only the first budget cycle. There are other budget cycles.”


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