After I wrote about Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of education, a few weeks ago, I started getting e-mails from the Friends of Betsy DeVos.
Every day in the run-up to her Senate committee hearing, one or more missives would arrive telling me how great DeVos is, and how many people are endorsing her.
The e-mails all came from one person: Ed Patru, vice president of a Washington-based public relations firm, DCI Group, and a former national strategist for House Republicans.
In our new era of “alternative facts,” as Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway put it, it wouldn’t be surprising if someone was paying Patru to be Betsy DeVos’s most vocal friend. Alternative facts are tricky, and not always so obvious, even to reporters.
That’s why presidential spokesman Sean Spicer had to call a press briefing to make it clear that (in spite of those pesky photographs) Trump attracted the biggest inaugural crowd ever. And that everyone at the CIA is “ecstatic” that he’s now their leader. Especially since a week ago, Trump was comparing them to Nazis.
It’s also the reason someone’s paying for television ads touting Alabama senator Jeff Sessions as a champion of civil rights and a fine choice for attorney general.
But Patru, who sounds like a pleasant fellow, told me he’s doing this “pro bono,” serving as spokesman for a “loose coalition of personal friends, professional friends, acquaintances, supporters, etc.”
A committee vote on DeVos originally scheduled for tomorrow has been postponed to give members a chance to examine her 108-page government ethics office report, released on Friday.
What they learned during the five minutes each of them got to question her at the hearing included this: she never attended public schools, chose not to send her children to public schools, is not an educator, has no experience that would qualify her to oversee the nation’s mammoth student-loan program, and appears to be fuzzy on education issues and policy. Most of all, she wants to see taxpayer dollars diverted through vouchers (or so-called tax credits) to private schools, including those inculcating one religion or another, and those run by corporations seeking to make money off the kids.
When Rhode Island senator Sheldon Whitehouse asked what should be done if charters and other privately run schools (which can cherry-pick their students) drain money from the public schools, leaving them unable to fulfill their mandate to educate every child, DeVos said that’ll be “an issue best addressed at the state level.”
Nothing emerged at the hearing to lessen the impression that DeVos’s major claim to this job is her activity as a donor, not only to the cause of private education, but to the Republican party.
In one memorable moment, Bernie Sanders, citing fears of moving toward an “oligarchic society,” asked about donations she and her extended family have given to Republican causes and candidates over the years. (DeVos’s family includes, among others, her husband, Amway heir Dick DeVos, and her brother, military privatization entrepreneur Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater.)
Sanders wondered if the amount he’d heard about is correct. DeVos said, “It’s possible.”
The figure? $200 million.
The committee vote has been rescheduled for January 31, but Sanders and Democrats on the committee are asking for a second hearing before they decide.