Betsy DeVos, the billionaire philanthropist set to become the next Secretary of Education, gave some disturbing answers during her recent confirmation hearings, including a deliberate attempt to mislead the Senate.
Though many of Trump’s cabinet picks have been controversial for a slew of reasons, perhaps none has caused as much controversy as his nominee for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. DeVos, a billionaire philanthropist, has come under fire since being selected for her lack of experience in the education system, particularly public schools, as well as her massive donations to private, and often religious, schools. While many “mainstream” outlets have focused on DeVos’ affinity for private and charter schools, it is her position on the separation of church and state in schools as well as her past relationships with anti-LBGTQ organizations that are the real cause for concern. During her Senate confirmation hearing earlier this week, DeVos – clearly well aware of her most controversial past actions and associations – made the questionable choice to deliberately mislead the Senate about these connections instead of responding to them outright, a disturbing course of action for someone set to be in charge of the national education system.
For many spectators, DeVos’ confirmation hearing was the most cringe-worthy so far due to both her troubling answers to some key questions regarding vouchers and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act along with the misleading aspects of her testimony. To begin with, Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chaired the hearing, made the unprecedented decision to limit senators to just one round of questioning for DeVos. Despite the restriction, several lawmakers asked hard-hitting questions, largely focused on her family foundation’s sizable donations to bigoted groups that have consistently sought to undermine the separation of church and state in public schools. When asked about these issues, DeVos responded that her immediate family had in no way associated themselves with financing anti-LBTGQ causes and that she had never supported “conversion therapy” for those who do not identify as heterosexual.
However, the biggest red flag that arose during DeVos’ confirmation hearing came about due to questions regarding donations made by her family members, particularly her mother’s the Prince Foundation (formerly known as the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation). Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) pressed DeVos on her statements while under oath that she had not been involved in the funding of anti-gay causes, asking directly if she was on the board of her mother’s foundation when it donated vast sums of money to Focus on the Family, an evangelical organization identified as an LBTGQ hate group. DeVos, well aware of the controversy surrounding these donations, said that she was not on the foundation’s board.
Yet, as journalist Jeremy Scahill pointed out soon after, the Prince Foundation’s 990 tax documents clearly show that DeVos was listed as vice president of the foundation’s board when the donations were made, as she only left the post in 2014. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), at the end of the hearing, went on to reference these forms, asking why DeVos was listed as the foundation’s vice-president when DeVos had claimed – moments before – that she was not on the board at all. What followed was an astounding and logic-defying claim. DeVos argued that years of the foundation’s government tax forms had been filed incorrectly. DeVos stated that “that was a clerical error. I can assure you I have never made decisions on my mother’s behalf on her foundation’s board.” As Scahill noted, the idea that the Prince Foundation would “accidentally” list DeVos as vice-president for years due to an oft-repeated clerical error is hardly believable. However, given the current political climate and Republican dominance in the national legislature, it seems unlikely that even the deliberate misleading of the Senate (i.e. perjury) would result in a rejection of DeVos for the position of Secretary of Education.
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