Murray Kicks Off Floor Debate on “Failed” Secretary of Education Nominee, Presses Senate Colleagues to Stand with Families, “Fight Back Against Betsy DeVos”
Murray and Senate Democrats promise “robust debate over the next few days” as Republicans attempt to jam through vote on DeVos nomination
Murray makes clear: “I will not stop fighting as hard as I can” to oppose DeVos who doesn’t stand with students, parents, teachers
Murray cites DeVos’ long history fighting to privatize public schools, serious potential conflicts of interests, and “ill-informed, confusing” responses to basic education questions as disqualifying
Scathing new editorial before debate—“Betsy DeVos’s nomination is not about making public education more effective…it’s about blowing up the system without a clue as to what comes next”—LINK
As a former pre-school teacher, school board member, mother and grandmother, Murrays says “I refuse to simply stand by and watch”
I am here for “parents, students, teachers, families, and communities across the country, to make sure they have a voice, to strongly oppose Betsy DeVos and her plans to privatize public schools and destroy public education, and to urge my colleagues to stand with their constituents”
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, kicked off 30 hours of debate on the Senate floor prior to the final vote to confirm President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
“I come to the floor today…as someone who, like so many people across the country, owes everything I have to the strong public education I received growing up,” said Senator Murray in her speech. “I believe it is my responsibility to do everything I can to make sure the opportunities that were there for me—and so many others—are open to every student in this country—no matter where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents have.”
Senate Republicans have rushed through the nomination of DeVos even though she did not provide the required financial disclosures and responses to questions by Senator Murray and Senate Democrats about her financial disclosures and support for anti-public education policies.
“Right from the start—it was very clear Republicans intended to jam this nominee through the process as quickly as possible. Corners were cut. Precedents were ignored. Debate was cut off. And reasonable requests and questions were blocked.”
“The more people learn about Betsy DeVos, the more they realize how wrong she is for our students and schools. The more they hear about her background, the more they see her as one more way President Trump has broken his promise to ‘drain the swamp.’ And the more that comes out about her failed record, her tangled finances and conflicts of interest, and her lack of understanding or experience—the more the pressure increases on Republicans to put their allegiance to President Trump aside, and stand with their constituents. So I understand why some Republican want to rush this through—but I think it is absolutely wrong, and I know people are paying attention.”
DeVos’ nomination has generated overwhelming public outcry across the country, and Senator Murray has received thousands of phone calls and emails from Washington state constituents expressing their deep concern with Ms. DeVos’ qualifications and positions.
“…she refused to rule out slashing investments in, or privatizing, public schools. She was confused that federal law provides protections for students with disabilities. She didn’t understand a basic issue in education policy—the debate surrounding whether students should be measured based on their proficiency, or their growth. She argued that guns needed to be allowed in schools across the country to ‘protect from grizzlies.’ And even though she was willing to say President Trump’s behavior toward women should be considered sexual assault—she wouldn’t commit to actually enforcing federal law protecting women and girls in our schools.”
“For parents of students in public schools—it’s hard to see a billionaire, who never went to public school and who didn’t send her children to public schools—put in a position to work against your interests. For teachers—who work so hard every day in our public schools—it is hard to see your work denigrated. For so many others—in communities across the country—something about Betsy DeVos has lit a fire underneath them too.”
In her speech, Senator Murray called on all her colleagues to join her in opposition to DeVos’ nomination and urged people around the country to keep contacting their Senators to make their voices heard.
“The bottom line is that strong public education is at the heart of true opportunity in America. People understand that. And they see that Betsy DeVos’ vision for this job is a direct attack on that core national value.”
Republican Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have stated their intent to join with Senator Murray and Senate Democrats to vote no on the nomination of DeVos after receiving overwhelming feedback from their constituents.
Full remarks by Senator Murray on Betsy DeVos, as prepared for delivery:
M. President, I am here to stand with parents, students, teachers, families, and communities across the country, to make sure they have a voice, to strongly oppose Betsy DeVos and her plans to privatize public schools and destroy public education in America, and to urge my colleagues to stand with their constituents—and join Democrats and Republicans in rejecting this nomination.
M. President, I come to the floor today as a former preschool teacher; someone who got my start in politics fighting for strong public schools; a former school board member; a Senator committed to standing strong for public education in America; a mother and a grandmother who cares deeply about the future of our students and schools; and someone who, like so many people across the country, owes everything I have to the strong public education I received growing up.
So M. President—I believe it is my responsibility to do everything I can to make sure the opportunities that were there for me—and so many others—are open to every student in this country—no matter where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents have. And I believe the federal government in general, and the Department of Education specifically, has an important role to play in making that happen.
So M. President—I take the position of Secretary of Education very seriously. Leading this agency, in this moment—is a critical job. I consider it to be my job to do everything I can to make sure the person who fills it is truly committed to putting students and families first. And as I will discuss in detail today, and in the coming days, I do not believe Betsy DeVos is the right person to do that.
M. President—before I get into Ms. DeVos’ failed record and lack of experience—I want to make a point about how I approach nominees, and how that impacts my perspective on this one. Many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are going to spend their time in this debate trying to impugn the motives of Democrats and Republicans who are trying to stop this nomination.
They will try to say President Trump won this election, that he should be able to pick anyone he wants to fill this position, and that we should all sit down and be quiet. But M. President—I reject that. I believe the Senate has an important role to play in this process, it is our constitutional duty to take these nominations seriously, and I refuse to simply stand by and watch.
President Trump absolutely has the right to nominate people for his cabinet who he thinks will carry out his vision for this country. But that doesn’t mean the Senate should be a rubber stamp—to the contrary. We owe it to the people we represent to make sure every nominee is not only qualified for the position and free of conflicts of interest, but that he or she will put families and workers first—and not millionaires, billionaires, or big corporations.
President Trump was the first presidential candidate in decades to not release his tax returns—and he is openly flouting ethics conventions regarding his personal and family businesses. M. President—I believe in an Administration where lines around potential conflicts of interest are very likely to be blurred at the top—they need to be even clearer at the individual agencies.
So I will not apologize for demanding the Senate do its job when it comes to doing our due diligence with these nominees. I will not back down from asking the questions my constituents would want me to ask. And I will not stop fighting as hard as I can to oppose a Secretary of Education who doesn’t stand with them.
M. President—I am extremely disappointed with how this process has gone so far. I have great respect for the Chairman of our Committee, but I have never seen anything like it—especially coming out of our Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee—where, until now, we have worked together across party lines so well.
Right from the start—it was very clear Republicans intended to jam this nominee through the process as quickly as possible. Corners were cut. Precedents were ignored. Debate was cut off. And reasonable requests and questions were blocked.
Again, I’ve never seen anything like it on our Committee. Democratic Administration or Republican, Democratic Majority or Republican. M. President—it has been truly frustrating—and deeply disappointing. I believe it is our job in the Senate to scrutinize nominees. But Republicans were acting like it was their jobs to protect Ms. DeVos—to shield her from questioning.
First—Republicans rushed us into a hearing before we had Ms. DeVos’ ethics paperwork in. That may seem like a small thing. It may seem like just a procedural issue. But M. President—it was important. Every single nominee during the Obama Administration had their ethics paperwork in before a hearing in our Committee. And the Republican Majority Leader made having ethics paperwork in before a hearing a core demand of his during the Obama Administration.
The reason for this is simple: Senators should be able to ask nominees questions about their finances, their potential conflicts of interest, how they plan to avoid them—and how they plan to uphold the letter and spirit of our ethics laws. But without the Office of Government Ethics financial disclosure, and without their review—Senators go into a hearing in the dark on a nominee’s ethics and finances—And that is exactly what we were pushed into with Ms. DeVos.
Second—M. President—when we got into that hearing, we were told that Democrats would only have five minutes to ask questions. Five minutes. To ask about Betsy DeVos’ finances, her long record on privatization of public education, her vision for the department, and the many issues in the Department’s jurisdiction. Five minutes. Then cut off.
Now M. President—this was completely unprecedented, and absolutely wrong. Never before had it been the case in our Committee—not a single time that I can recall—that a Senator had a question for a nominee, and was cut off and blocked from asking it. Democrats were sitting at the hearing waiting, hoping that the Chairman would change his mind—but we were shut down and silenced, and Ms. DeVos was protected from answering additional questions.
Third—after we finally got Betsy DeVos’ ethics paperwork—and had a number of questions about it—I requested another hearing where we could ask her those questions. This was a reasonable request. But it was rejected.
Fourth—M. President—I had a number of questions for Betsy DeVos about missing information in her paperwork to the Committee—and she has simply not provided the Committee with the required financial disclosures. We have a strong tradition in our Committee of not moving to a vote until the ranking member’s questions are answered to satisfaction—and that tradition was ignored as Betsy DeVos was jammed through.
And then finally, M. President—after a vote was pushed through the Committee as quickly as possible, with questions about rules being bent or ignored to get that done—this nomination is now being rushed to the floor and Republicans are attempting to jam it through here as well.
And M. President—it is very clear to me why that is. The more people learn about Betsy DeVos, the more they realize how wrong she is for our students and schools. The more they hear about her background, the more they see her as one more way President Trump has broken his promise to “drain the swamp.”
And the more that comes out about her failed record, her tangled finances and conflicts of interest—and her lack of understanding or experience, the more the pressure increases on Republicans to put their allegiance to President Trump aside, and stand with their constituents. So I understand why some Republican want to rush this through—but I think it is absolutely wrong, and I know people are paying attention.
And I want to make one final point on this. The Chairman of our Committee, the Senior Senator from Tennessee—has brought up the idea of “fairness” when it comes to how we should approach this nomination. That he believes President Trump’s nominees should be treated “fairly.” But my friend, the Senior Senator from Tennessee—is defining fairness in an interesting way.
He is saying if Republicans didn’t scrutinize President Obama’s nominees—and if they didn’t take the time to do their due diligence then—it would be unfair for Democrats to do that for President Trump’s.
Well, M. President, I just don’t agree with that. I define fairness very differently. I believe the fair thing to do is what is fair for our constituents. That we work for them—and should do right by them—not for a Party, a nominee, or an Administration. I believe that the “fair” thing to do is to scrutinize these nominees—ask the tough questions—and push for real answers. And that we should err on the side of deeper review, more robust questioning—rather than on the side of pointing to how Democrats and Republicans were treated in the past and “fairness” to nominees.
So M. President—I think it is clear that this nominee is being rushed through, and corners are being cut. But I want to take some time now to talk about why I will be opposing her—and urging my colleagues to do the same. I have three main reasons. They are: open questions about her tangled finances and potential conflicts of interest; strong concerns with her record, her lack of experience, and her clear lack of understanding of basic education issues; And the belief that her vision for education in America is deeply at odds with where parents, students, and families across the country want to go.
M. President—I mentioned this a bit before. But I have never seen a nominee with such tangled and opaque finances—and who is refusing to shine anything close to an appropriate level of light on them. Ms. DeVos is a billionaire—and her inherited money is invested along with other members of her family in potentially hundreds of holding companies. These holding companies often invest in other holding companies. And it is often very hard to untangle the individual companies she and her family actually own stakes in—which is very relevant, because we know her family has had significant education company holdings in the past—and they would be impacted by the decisions she made if confirmed.
M. President—Ms. DeVos has told us that she will comply with all ethics rules should she be confirmed—but we still have questions, and she still hasn’t fulfilled the Committee requirements. We have questions about areas in Ms. DeVos’ ethics paperwork where it’s simply unclear if assets she continues to hold have potential conflicts of interest—and we have not been given the full answers.
We also want to know more from her about the family trusts she is maintaining positions in—and we have not been given the full answers. And finally, as I mentioned before, I have raised a number of questions about Ms. DeVos’ failure to provide the required financial disclosure to the Committee—and I have not been given full answers there either.
Second, M. President—I have very strong concerns with Betsy DeVos record, her lack of experience, and her clear lack of understanding of basic education issues. And I can take these one at a time. M. President—nominees for this position have generally been people who were committed to students, had a long career dedicated to education, and were focused on keeping public education strong for all students and all communities.
But Betsy DeVos is very different. First of all, she is first and foremost a Republican and conservative activist and mega-donor. She was Chair of the Michigan Republican Party. And she and her family have reportedly donated hundreds of millions dollars to Republicans and conservative groups over the years. Second of all—Betsy DeVos has spent her career and her fortune rigging the system to privatize and defund public education and hurt students in communities across the country.
She has no experience with public schools—except through her work trying to tear them down. She has committed herself for decades to an extreme ideological goal: push students out of public schools, and weaken public education, no matter what. And she has spent millions of dollars in political donations, organizations, and Super-PACs to try to influence elections and policies to accomplish that goal. M. President—it’s not difficult to pick out where Betsy DeVos has focused—the signs are usually pretty easy to see. Where she has succeeded in getting her way, too often there are: weaker public schools, worse outcomes, and fewer true opportunities for students. In fact—the only people guaranteed to benefit when Betsy DeVos focuses her attention on a community or a state are the TV stations—who see hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars in money pour into attack ads against her political opponents.
M. President—I can spend hours here talking about Betsy DeVos’ record of failure and her devastating impact on students. But all people need to do is watch her hearing in our Committee—and they can learn everything they need to know. This is a hearing that people across the country heard about—and for good reason. From local newspapers, to local news, to the Daily Show, the View, and posts that went viral on social media—a whole lot of people heard Betsy DeVos for the first time in that hearing, and they were not impressed—to put it mildly.
They watched as Democrats were blocked from asking questions in an unprecedented and disappointing attempt to protect this nominee. And then—on the questions we were allowed to ask—they saw a nominee who was clearly ill-informed, and confused—and who gave a number of very concerning responses to serious and reasonable questions.
Let’s go through what Betsy DeVos said to us. She refused to rule out slashing investments in, or privatizing, public schools. She was confused that federal law provides protections for students with disabilities. She didn’t understand a basic issue in education policy—the debate surrounding whether students should be measured based on their proficiency, or their growth. She argued that guns needed to be allowed in schools across the country to “protect from grizzlies.” And even though she was willing to say President Trump’s behavior toward women should be considered sexual assault—she wouldn’t commit to actually enforcing federal law protecting women and girls in our schools.
M. President—her hearing was such a disaster—and it was so clear how little she understood about education issues—that a number of people and groups who usually stay on the fence, or even sometimes stand with Ms. DeVos on some issues—couldn’t stand with her any more. And to parents watching across the country—they saw a nominee who doesn’t seem to care about or understand the education issues that impact them and their kids.
M. President—this takes me to my final point on Betsy DeVos. Her vision for education in America is one that is deeply at odds with where parents, students, and families across the country want to go. And at a time when education and the opportunity it affords is more important than ever, she would take our country in the absolute wrong direction.
Eli Broad—a philanthropist and strong charter school advocate put it very well when he said “at the risk of stating the obvious, we must have a Secretary of Education who believes in public education and the need to keep public schools public.” He went on to say: “with Betsy DeVos at the helm of the U.S. Department of Education, much of the good work that has been accomplished to improve public education for all of America’s children could be undone.”
M. President—I completely agree. Parents across the country want their government and their representatives fighting tooth and nail to improve public schools for all students, in every community. While Betsy DeVos is committed to privatizing public schools, and diverting public funds into private taxpayer-funded vouchers that would leave far too many students behind.
And I will add—I have many friends here in the Senate representing rural states that would be severely impacted by a Secretary of Education who implemented a radical agenda like this.
M. President, the bottom line is that strong public education is at the heart of true opportunity in America. People understand that. And they see that Betsy DeVos’ vision for this job is a direct attack on that core national value. M. President—I truly believe this is what has motivated so many people around the country to stand up and speak out. They saw her disastrous hearing on the news and going viral on social media.
And it’s clear that people across the country care so deeply about education—and are so passionate about making sure we have strong public schools, that seeing President Trump nominate someone like Betsy DeVos to run this Department just hits very close to home to a whole lot of people.
It is so deeply offensive to them. For parents of students in public schools—it’s hard to see a billionaire, who never went to public school and who didn’t send her children to public schools—put in a position to work against your interests. For teachers—who work so hard every day in our public schools—it is hard to see your work denigrated. For so many others—in communities across the country—something about Betsy DeVos has lit a fire underneath them too. And they have all decided to do something about it.
M. President—Senate office phone lines have been shut down over the past week with so many callers weighing in against Betsy DeVos. Every office is receiving tens of thousands of letters asking the Senate to reject her—almost 40,000 have come in to my office alone. Millions of people have signed petitions with the same message. There have been rallies and protests across the country. And millions more posting on Facebook, sharing with their friends, tweeting, and doing everything they can to make their voices heard.
M. President—I want to share just a sample of what I have heard from my constituents. One teacher from the Mukilteo School District, a 26-year veteran of Washington state public schools, said she’s worked tirelessly at Title I elementary schools to help children achieve their greatest potential. If DeVos is confirmed, this teacher is terrified her schools will lose their funding.
Another constituent of mine, from Federal Way, tells me she has grandchildren in Michigan who are at risk because of Ms. DeVos’ reckless policies. And she does not want to see this disaster repeated throughout the country. The regional superintendent in Wenatchee –a small city in north central Washington—told me he and his colleagues didn’t even know where to begin laying out their concerns with Betsy DeVos.
And a 4th grade teacher from Spokane, Washington, reached out to tell me she watched the confirmation hearing—and was simply shocked at how little Betsy DeVos seemed to understand about the issues she faces every day in her classroom.
M. President—those are just a few examples. There are thousands upon thousands. In every community, in every state. And it is having an impact! Every member of this body has felt the pressure. Already, two Republicans have made it clear that the voices of their constituents have pushed them into the no column. And I know there are other Republicans who take what their constituents have to say very seriously—and who have serious concerns about putting partisanship ahead of their states’ and constituents’ interests.
M. President—I don’t like that we are rushing into this without the information we need, but if the Majority is going to jam this through, we are going to do everything we can to have a robust debate over the next few days.
So I am proud to stand with parents. I am proud stand with students. I am proud to stand with teachers. I am proud to stand with those in my home state of Washington and across the country who support strong public schools and true education opportunities for all. And I am proud to stand up and fight back against Betsy DeVos.
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