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Trump Education Pick to Face Warren, Sanders

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to head the Department of Education, is set to square off against Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The Hill reports:

Devos, a billionaire GOP donor, will take the first step toward a possible confirmation on Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee that will put her face-to-face with liberal stalwarts Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

DeVos’s vocal support of school choice and charter schools is expected to get tough questioning at a hearing that promises to be contentious.

Warren just last week penned a scathing 16-page letter to DeVos, arguing that she’s unqualified to lead the Education Department and lacks public education experience.

“While past nominees for secretary of Education have served as teachers, school system leaders, and governors, and came to the Department of Education with deep executive experience in public education, you have held no such position,” Warren wrote.

“As such, your nomination provides the Senate and the public with few clues about your actual policy positions on a host of critical issues.”

Teachers unions loudly oppose DeVos’s nomination, with the American Federation of Teachers president called her “the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education.” The National Education Association also opposes her nomination.

DeVos needs just 50 votes to win confirmation, making it difficult for Democrats to block her nomination. No Republicans have signaled opposition to her confirmation.

But she could also potentially face some heat from more conservative lawmakers over her past support for Common Core education standards.

DeVos backed it when it was at the state level, but opposed it when it became a federal standard. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly attacked Common Core, vowing to eliminate it and give back authority to the states.

High-profile Republicans have gone to bat for DeVos, who didn’t endorse Trump during the GOP primary and has long been a leading GOP voice for education reform.

Senate Education Committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) met with her prior to the confirmation hearing and announced his support.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney have endorsed DeVos, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice penned a letter to the HELP Committee supporting DeVos’s nomination. Former first lady Barbara Bush wrote an op-ed doing the same.

DeVos’s original hearing was scheduled for Jan. 11, but Democrats argued that Republicans were rushing to hold hearings and were not giving the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) enough time to fully vet Trump’s nominees. A day before the initial hearing date, OGE was still reviewing DeVos’s paperwork.

As a piece of the vetting process, MLive.com reported Friday that DeVos disclosed her $5.3 million in campaign contributions from the past five years. The total of 440 donations date back to 2012.

End Citizens United (ECU), a campaign finance reform PAC, and Every Voice have been ramping up pressure for senators on the HELP Committee who have received campaign contributions from DeVos to recuse themselves from her confirmation hearing. They include GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Todd Young (Ind.), Lisa Murkowski(Ak.) and Richard Burr (N.C.).

ECU spokesman Adam Bozzi said that the group has run ads against these senators in Washington, D.C., and their home states and plans to keep up the pressure even after the hearing. The group has received more than 23,000 petitions that will be delivered to those members’ offices next week.

Ed Patru, a spokesman for the group Friends for Betsy DeVos, argued DeVos faces a double standard since the two teachers unions opposing her nomination have contributed to Democratic members of the HELP Committee.

Another attack line to watch for on Tuesday from Democrats is related to a $5.3 million fine imposed on a political action committee run by DeVos that was found to violate Ohio’s election laws a decade ago.

At the time, DeVos ran All Children Matter, a school choice PAC, and was given the fine after it exceeded the contribution limit to its Ohio affiliate. The Ohio Elections Commission had previously warned the group that contributing over $10,000 would be breaking the law. Her PAC has since disbanded.

Sanders and three other Democratic senators sent a letter to DeVos last month calling on her to repay the fine.

“If confirmed as Secretary of Education, you would be responsible for administering our nation’s student loan programs and ensuring that borrowers repay their loans in a timely manner,” the senators wrote. “However, the PAC that you chaired failed to pay fines that were imposed on it over eight years ago.”

Patru said DeVos wasn’t named in the lawsuit that came from the fine and called Democrats’ efforts a “transparently political maneuver” and a “witch hunt.”

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