After working well together on education issues for years — including passing a successor law to No Child Left Behind — the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate education committee went to war with each other Tuesday shortly before the panel was to vote on whether to approve President Donald Trump’s education secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is led by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. The ranking Washington Democrat is Sen. Patty Murray. The panel held a confirmation hearing for DeVos on Jan. 17 that fueled opposition to her nomination after she displayed — under tough Democratic questioning — a lack of understanding of key education issues.
Ahead of the vote on DeVos, the most controversial education secretary nominee since the Education Department was created in 1979, Alexander and Murray each gave opening remarks that made clear the era of bipartisanship on the panel is over — at least for now and possibly for some time.
DeVos is seen by her supporters as a strong supporter of school choice who will work with Congress to implement federal law on education and won’t try to micromanage state education decisions. Her critics say DeVos, who has called public education a “dead end,” has a long advocacy record of working to privatize the public education system and that she is out of the mainstream of even some school-choice supporters.
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Alexander started his opening remarks noting how well the Republicans and Democrats have worked in the past, but he said that wasn’t the case during the DeVos episode.
“I think I have to face the facts that we disagree on the process, we disagree on the nominee and we are at the point where we need to express those disagreements with a vote,” he said.
He also said that he hopes the committee can “get back” to working together.
Murray, in her opening comments, was much sharper:
“So Chairman Alexander — I have to say — I am extremely disappointed and frustrated that you are allowing this to happen to our Committee. This the first time I can remember that we will hold a vote on a nominee when the ranking Democrat 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 well for the past two years — and it’s because we have worked in good faith and across party lines to make sure we had what we needed to proceed. You are justifiably proud of your record of accomplishments on this Committee over the years. But by moving forward today, I consider 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.”