Patty Murray

Betsy DeVos Nomination Vote, Part 1 - Jan. 31, 2017

Patty Murray
January 31, 2017— Washington, D.C.
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MURRAY: Well, thank you very much, Chairman Alexander.

Today I will be joining my colleagues in support of the organization of this committee which I assume will be the first vote at 11:30. I will have one amendment to those rules that –

ALEXANDER: The first vote will be the vote on confirmation.

MURRAY: Okay. Are we debating the nomination now or are you debating the --

ALEXANDER: Excuse me. Thank you, thank you for asking that. Senator Murray has an amendment, and following her opening statement, whatever she would like to do, if she'd like to offer that amendment and speak to it, we can do that. I would suggest we might spend 20 or 30 minutes debating that and then go on into a discussion of the nominee.

But Senator Murray, you're free to offer that whenever you'd like to.

MURRAY: My question is what we debating right now? You to talk a lot about Ms. DeVos—I have a great deal to say about that as well. I'm willing to start with that debate now, or if you want to hold that I wasn't sure what, I was confused by what you were doing. I thought we're debating the organization of the committee first and the rules and the amendment that I’m offering, then having a debate on DeVos. I'm happy to talk about Mrs. DeVos first.

ALEXANDER: Well, why don't you do -- that might be more appropriate and then when you ready to offer your tax amendment we will talk about that.

MURRAY: Okay. I will be talking about our amendment on taxes but as you just been a great deal of time talking about Mrs. DeVos, I do want to just say I am really disappointed that we are moving ahead with this vote, despite my reasonable request for a delay. Democrats do have a number of concerns with this nomination. For all I know Republicans may have concerns as well. But we've not been given an appropriate opportunity to get the answers to our questions and to do our jobs here in the Senate, to do due diligence by on nominees and make sure they truly are ready to get to work for the people that we all represent.

As we in this room all know well, nominations for Secretary of Education have historically been moving through in a bipartisan way, with some exceptions they have been people who are committed to students, had a long career dedicated to education and who were focused on keeping public education strong for all students and all communities.

This nominee is different and are very good reasons why she has become so controversial, why she has been panned across the country, our offices are being inundated with calls to oppose her and why so many Democrats are standing up to say they think she is at the wrong choice.

So I will be voting against Betsy DeVos today, and for the students and parents that I represent, I will be encouraging my colleagues to do the same.

I have two major problems with this nomination and want to run through each briefly. First, Chairman Alexander, I have said to you privately already, we simply have not been given all of the information we need to make a decision as senators charged with robustly scrutinizing a President’s nominee.

Mrs. DeVos is a billionaire with extraordinarily complicated and opaque finances, both in her own holdings as well as of those of her immediate family. She has invested in education companies for decades. Her ethics paperwork raises a significant number of questions about the companies that she plans to remain invested in. As well as significant numbers of assets that we simply do not know enough about. And she refused to answer basic questions about her finances.

In fact, apart and his review of the responses to our question that you just sent to us yesterday, there significant gaps and incomplete answers in my questions about missing information in her committee financial disclosure. Ms. DeVos continues to simply refuse to answer questions in our committee questionnaire, and it is simply referring the back to her ethics paperwork, which is completely at odds with past practice in this committee. It sets a new and dangerous precedent that dramatically limit our ability to get a full picture of nominee finances and potential conflict of interest.

So, Chairman Alexander, I have to say I’m extremely disappointed and frustrated that this is happening to this committee. This is the first time I can remember that we will hold a vote on a nominee when the ranking member has made it clear that questions about missing information in the committee paperwork have not been answered fully and to satisfaction.

We have been able to work together for the past several years and it's because we worked in good faith and across party lines to make sure we had what we needed to proceed. The chairman is justifiably proud of his record of accomplishment on this committee over the years, but by moving forward today I considered this to be a massive break with that strong bipartisan record and it will dramatically impact our ability to work together in good faith going forward.

Because the usual practices are being ignored here. The right thing to do is being ignored here. This nominee is being jammed through with corners is being cut and with the minority being brushed aside, and I think that's absolutely wrong.

Additionally, we just received responses to hundreds of written questions yesterday, less than 24 hours before the scheduled vote and with no time to fully review and ask any follow-up questions. Though I will say upon initial review many other responses copied and pasted from previous statements or are simple reiteration of the law, and no true responses at all.

So Chairman Alexander I’ve been very clear. We should not go into this vote and the senators have received appropriate responses to reasonable questions and what are not there yet. So that's the first reason why I will be voting against this nominee, but there is another.

And that is I have not been persuaded that Betsy DeVos will put students first if she were to be confirmed, and I’ve not been persuaded she has the experience, the skills, the understanding or the vision to lead to this critical department at a time when it is more important than ever.

There is so much about Betsy DeVos’ his record over the years that we can look to what would make this decision from the decade she spent using her inherited fortune to influence Republican candidates and pusher extreme anti-student ideology to the failed education policy she fought for that siphoned money away from strengthening public schools for all students and toward taxpayer-funded private school vouchers with little accountability for just a few.

To the work she did to reduce accountability, to reduce accountability for charter schools, including for-profit charters. And the devastating impact or advocacy had on students in Michigan and across the country, stealing the opportunity to learn, pushing it into failed schools without true accountability, demonizing teachers and weakening publication, public education and their communities. Betsy DeVos’ record is robust, deeply problematic and I hope members of this committee have thoroughly examined it.

But we don't even need to do that. We can simply look at the one hearing we have been allowed to have with Ms. DeVos in front of this committee. 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" to the View and post with viral on social media a lot of people are Betsy DeVos for the first time.

They watched as Democrats got 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 was widely seen as 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 investment in or privatizing public schools. And in fact, in her written response to me she would not commit to protecting Title I funding as it is written in the Every Student Succeeds Acts.

She was confused that federal law provides protection for students with disabilities.

She argued that guns need to be allowed in schools across the country to quote “protect from the grizzlies.”

And even though she was willing to say that President Trump’s behavior toward women should be considered sexual assault, she would not commit to actually enforcing federal law protecting women and girls in our schools.

From everything we heard, everything we know, and all of the questions that still remain, it is clear to me that Betsy DeVos is the wrong choice to lead our nation’s Department of Education.

And that is not just my view. Over the last few weeks, Senate offices have been inundated with calls and letters and petitions and social media. I know all of you have heard about it, and the vast majority of them have come with very clear message. “Say yes to strong public education for all students, and no to Betsy DeVos.”

I stand with parents across the country. I stand with students. And I urge my colleagues to vote against Betsy DeVos today.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask you one of us can in our record 19 letters from 315 organizations with strong concerns opposing the nomination of Betsy DeVos.

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