After Ethics Review, Senate Postpones Committee Vote For Betsy DeVos

RealClear Staff

            

     Mere hours upon Trump’s education-pick Betsy DeVos endured her completed-ethics review, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions halted the vote on her until further notice.

[Video: Bastien Inzaurralde | Source: The Washington Post]

While the committee was to originally vote on Tuesday, January 24th, the assembly has been pushed back to January 31st at 10 a.m.—Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) release this statement. This announcement was made only after the Office of Government Ethics (the key agency in examining nominees’ financial documents) disclosed its much-anticipated report on Friday. Alexander added he wants to allow each Senator on the committee ample time to review the information.

According to Ethics Director Walter M. Shaub Jr., in order to effectively vet wealthy individuals (e.g., DeVos), the committee would need weeks (perhaps months)—while Senate Democrats impatiently wanted to absorb and assess it all before DeVos’s confirmation hearing, which went down on Tuesday. While Democrats were not thrilled at only five minutes a piece to query DeVos, Alexander firmly kept the interrogatives to a single session. (Many of them complained on the time allotted and pushed for a second round.) DeVos’s counter candidates seem to think Alexander is rushing through a process entailing a close look at someone her opponents say isn’t qualified to oversee the US education department.

The committee’s top Democrat and Washington Senator Pat Murray spokesman Eli Zupnick’s worried members won’t have enough time to get their ethics questions and concerns voiced and answered before the vote.

“Ms. DeVos and her family have incredibly complicated and opaque, financial entanglements, and staff is now reviewing all of her and her family’s holdings that have conflicts with her role as Secretary of Education,” Zupnick said. “Senator Murray has also not yet received answers to her questions about missing information in Ms. DeVos’s Committee financial disclosure. And Committee Democrats have sent Ms. DeVos a number of reasonable questions for the record that she committed to answer and that they expect clear and complete responses to.”

[Video: Jenny Starrs | Source: The Washington Post]

But Alexander assured that Devos took the necessary steps to make herself legitimate—including the almost-four-hour inquiry session and speaking one on one with committee members. Even with all that, he agreed to delay the vote.

“We know that Betsy DeVos is a passionate defender of improving opportunities for low-income children who has committed to implement the law fixing No Child Left Behind as Congress wrote it, support public schools, and work to protect all children and students from discrimination and ensure they are educated in a safe environment,” Alexander Spokeswoman Margaret Atkinson said.

While Mrs. Devos lacks prior experience in public schools, she spent decades in lobbying for charter-school expansion and increase for taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools. However, her lack of experience seemed more of a liability at Tuesday’s meeting. The Senate Democrats were very firm and pressed hard on DeVos with relevant questions she struggled to answer.

During the committee forum, DeVos strongly assured them she’d smooth out and find solutions to any conflictive interests the office deemed as such—she backed this up in a letter she sent Thursday to the Education Department’s ethics office. Further, she claimed to have resigned from multiple education-centric foundations—including All Children Matter and Great Lakes Education Foundation.

But she is keeping her seat as a co-trustee of three family trusts—one of these is indirectly, financially staked in Sextant Education. This educational outfit manages a for-profit college chain—under the umbrella of AEA Investors. While DeVos lists AEA as an asset in which she’ll divest, it’s uncertain if she’ll retain a stake via the trust or not. The accompanying trusts don’t avail any listed assets, so it’s a mystery as to them having investments in other, education companies.

“It is not clear whether the family trust would divest from these assets, but if it does not, she will be in conflict,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington spokesperson Jordan Libowitz said. “She turned her forms in at 10 o’clock last night. There are significant issues that still need to be worked out and should have been dealt with before hearings started.”

[Sen. Patty Murray & Sen. Lamar Alexander | Source: HELP.Senat.Gov]

If DeVos gets the secretarial seat, she intends to divest from 102 companies within a 90-day window—she listed every one of them. Amid that list is LMF WF Portfolio—an LLC listed in regulatory filings as one part of many firms that cooperatively loaned $147 million to Performant Financial Corp. (a debt-collection agency in business with the Education Department). PFC was unable to solidify a bid with the department and is actually protesting the outcome to the Government Accountability Office—that outfit can dismiss the issue if the department backtracks. The secretary’s influence in that deal left Democrats uncomfortable about DeVos’s indirect investment.

Within DeVos’s letter to the Education Department, she wrote “[I] will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter that, to my knowledge, has a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of [the 102 companies in question] until I have divested.” DeVos added she would ensure “all proceeds are invested in non-conflicting assets.”

Libowitz added that once DeVos and her husband are totally divested from such companies as Performant, she’ll be safe from any Education Department business involving the aforementioned companies. However, he’s still concerned with her professional affairs with other assets (e.g., DeVos being the sole investor) that might entail her needing a recusal longer than one year.

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