Patty Murray

Opening Remarks in the Betsy DeVos Senate Confirmation Hearing - Jan. 17, 2017

Patty Murray
January 17, 2017— Washington, D.C.
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I look forward to working with you and all of our colleagues in Congress. I want to welcome our new members on this committee. Thank you for joining us today.

Thank you, Mrs. DeVos, for joining us today. Welcome to the rest of your family who has joined you as well.

This is the first of many hearings we will be to the rest of your holding on President-elect Trump's nominee to fill critical positions in the federal government. I want to start by reiterating the importance of the Senate's role in the process and this committee's role. President Trump has the right to fill his cabinet with people he thinks will fill out positions for our country.

That does not mean the senate should be a rubberstamp. We owe it to the people we represent to make sure every nominee is not only qualified for the position and free of conflict of interest, but that he or she will put families and workers first, and not millionaires, billionaires or big corporations. President-elect Trump was the first presidential candidate in decades to not release his tax returns. He's openly flouting ethics conventions regarding his personal and family businesses. Some people say this means the bar has been lowered for ethics and public service.

I refuse to accept that and will continue to hold the incoming administration to the highest ethical standard. This is what the American people deserve, regardless of who they voted for, where their tax dollars is going. I believe in an administration where conflicts of interest will be blurred at the top, then he to be even clear at individual agencies. We work to ensure the highest ethical standards are maintained and there is accountability to taxpayers from the top of the government all the way down. I'm going to continue pushing for robust scrutiny of every one of these nominees and I appreciate that Mrs. DeVos has said to me she knows the importance of transparency and openness. She will make sure that no corners are cut in will go to great lengths -- and will go to great lengths.

I'm extremely disappointed that we are moving forward with this hearing before receiving the proper paperwork from the office of government ethics. When President Obama entered the white house, Republicans and since consisted in having an ethics in hand before moving to a hearing. Senator McConnell wrote a letter to Senator Reid with that explicitly, with a background check before the hearing. I'm extremely concerned and I can only hope cutting corners and rushing nominees through will not be the new norm.

We are here today to hear from president elect's nominee to lead the department of education. As a former teacher and school board member and fighting for public investments in early learning, I take this issue very seriously. I owe everything I have to strong public schools. I was able to attend with my six brothers and sisters. None of us in our family would have been able to go to college were it not for federal support.

We had those opportunities because of our government and was committed in investing in us, I know that is not the case for every student today. Although we have a long way to go, I’m committed to making sure the federal government is a strong partner to our public schools districts and states. That every student has access to a high-quality education that allows them to succeed. We focus our federal policies and investment in strengthening public schools for all students, and certainly not towards taxpayer dollars to fund vouchers that do not work for unaccountable private schools.

That is why I was proud to work with Chairman Alexander and so many others to pass the act that gives flexibility to states and school districts, but also includes strong accountability for our schools and reiterates our nation's commitment to strengthening public education, especially for our vulnerable students.

This commitment goes beyond K-12-- the federal government in general and the department of education specifically has an important role of to play in supporting, protecting and investing in all of our students from our youngest learners to those in higher education and adults and parents seeking to improve their skills.

Leading this agency is a big job. It is an important job and I consider it to be my job to do everything I can to make sure whoever fills this is truly committed to putting students and families first. Mrs. Devos, I’m looking forward to hearing your answers to some questions as I have a number of very serious concerns that need to be addressed.

First, I want to learn more about your extensive financial entanglements and potential conflicts of interests. As a billionaire with hundreds if not thousands investments through complex financial instruments, many of which that were nontransparent, you need to make it clear that you will avoid conflicts of interest if confirmed. That goes to your investments and a web of investments made by your immediate family.

Despite starting out on the wrong track by not having an ethics letter complete before this year hearing, I appreciate what you are doing to provide the committee information to understand how you will intend to have a highest level of ethics and transparency.

So far, no calls to release three years of tax returns, but I hope you will consider it and cooperate fully.

I have major concerns without you spend your career and fortune fighting to privatize public education and gut investments in public schools. I have specific questions on how the privatization policies you have pushed at impacted students and how you intend to use taxpayer dollars to support public education and not continue to undermine schools and teachers from inside the department as you have as an advocate from the outside.

I want to know more about the large contributions you have made to groups that are ideologically opposed to workers and teachers and want to impose anti-LGBT or anti-women's health believes on public schools.

I want to make sure you publicly commit to implementing our Every Student Succeeds Act by having strong federal guardrails that are in that law.

I want to know how you will tackle the persistent achievement gap.

Third, while you have been outspoken on K-12 issues, your record is not clear in critical areas. I want to learn more on how you will approach higher education and whether or not we can count on you to stand with students and borrowers.

I'm interested in your thoughts on Title IX, how we can do everything possible to stop the scourge of sexual assault on campus. I was not happy when we talk about this issue when we met. I’m hopeful that you have learned more about it since then, and are prepared to address it seriously.

I want to know how your personal religious and ideological views on women's health impacts how you approach this issue in the department. I'm very concerned with what has been reported in the press about your views on the importance of the office of civil rights which works to help those with disabilities, LGBT, women and girls, students of our color, and all of our students are treated with dignity and respect. I want to know how you will enforce critical civil rights laws.

As my colleagues know, I have a passion for early learning and I want to know where you stand and how the federal government can help every child to prepare for success in kindergarten. Those are just a few of those issues.

I'm looking forward to a robust dialogue tonight. I'm hoping you are transparent about your views, open about your record and its impact on students, and willing to make some straightforward commitments regarding the core responsibility of this department and the role you hope to take in it.

I will be asking you to commit to providing this committee with additional information and responses to all reasonable follow-up questions as quickly as possible. I'm hoping this can be a smooth process.

But Mr. Chairman, my members are here tonight and are hoping for more than five minutes of questions on this critical nominee. I hope you will consider doing that.