All Democratic senators will oppose DeVos as education secretary

After letting Ben Carson sail through his confirmation process, Democrats vow not to do the same for Betsy DeVos.

Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) questions Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 10, 2017. CREDIT: AP/Alex Brandon
Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) questions Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 10, 2017. CREDIT: AP/Alex Brandon

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) said all of the Democrats on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee — perhaps the entire Senate — will oppose Betsy Devos, President Trump’s nominee for education secretary.

Franken broke the news on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC on Thursday. The committee will vote on whether to confirm the Michigan-based philanthropist on Tuesday of next week, and Franken said Democrats also plan to find Republicans to oppose her. It is unclear if he meant all Senate Democrats or all Democrats on the committee, since he did not specify which group he was referring to.

This opposition contrasts with Ben Carson’s confirmation process, which he sailed through earlier this week, despite the fact that he has no experience with housing policy or working in government. The Senate Banking Committee, which includes 11 Democrats, unanimously approved his nomination. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in particular have been grilled by progressives, who demand to know why they voted in favor of Carson.

Opposition to DeVos has been different in a number of ways, however. Unlike Carson, who avoided disagreeing with senators during the confirmation, DeVos played it less safe and showed her lack of knowledge on education policy in a variety of areas. DeVos was not aware of a federal law protecting the rights of students with disabilities, did not appear to understand a question about measuring school quality, and suggested that schools needed guns to protect students from grizzly bears. The Wyoming school she was referring to did not actually use guns against grizzly bears. The state bans guns from its school campuses, and Wapiti Elementary instead uses a fence to keep bears away students.

Her grizzly bear comment received the most attention, but DeVos also refused to say she would enforce 2011 guidance that uses a preponderance of evidence standard in investigations of campus sexual assault. This standard allows a disciplinary panel to make a decision based on which party’s evidence has greater weight rather than requiring clear and convincing evidence. Advocates for campus sexual assault survivors have long supported the guidance.

DeVos also avoided making detailed remarks about LGBTQ rights during the hearing. This week, DeVos said she supports same-sex marriage. In 1999, DeVos and her husband gave $275,000 to Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian non-profit organization which believes in gay conversion therapy, a harmful practice, but haven’t given money to the organization since. DeVos’ refusal to say she would support the 2011 guidance on campus rape — as well as her donations to a group that opposes the guidance— would seriously affect LGBTQ people. LGBTQ students are disproportionately the victims of campus sexual violence and harassment.

DeVos’ confirmation process is also different from Carson’s in the respect that well-organized national teachers unions fiercely oppose her. DeVos’ support of vouchers for private schools and for the expansion of charter schools has incensed public school teachers, who don’t want to see schools lose federal funding. During her hearing, DeVos dodged a question to vow that she wouldn’t take a cent from public schools. Last week, teachers and their allies protested against her nomination by gathering in front of schools in over 200 cities.