DeVos battles lawmakers in contentious hearing

Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosDon’t worry (too much) about Kavanaugh changing the Supreme Court Overnight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to take over Afghan war MORE struggled to answer tough questions in a congressional hearing Tuesday, resulting in numerous tense back-and-forths with Democrats and a few quiet rebukes from Republican committee members.

Democrats accused DeVos of lacking leadership as she repeatedly failed to provide specific answers on her positions on school gun violence, racial disparities, LGBT rights and student loan oversight.

DeVos frequently demurred, telling lawmakers at a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services that Congress, and not the administration, had the responsibility for making certain policy decisions.

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She said the Education Department budget request she was there to defend was out of date, and repeatedly stated that her department followed federal statute as necessary.

Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeLinda Sanchez announces bid for Crowley’s spot atop Dem Caucus Dems struggle with unity amid leadership tensions Fifth-ranking House Dem doubles down, says it’s time to overhaul leadership MORE (D-Calif.) questioned DeVos on racial issues, demanding to know why she was reviewing policies meant to crack down on racial bias in school discipline.

“For the same infraction, black and brown students are disciplined and expelled at a much higher rate. That’s what you call racial bias and racism,” Lee said, citing Department of Education Data. 

During two rounds of questioning on the issue, Lee was unsatisfied with DeVos’s answers that all regulations were under review and that she shared the view that all students should be treated equally. 

When DeVos blamed the lack of Senate-confirmed staff on her failure to respond to a June letter from Lee on the matter, Lee responded: “Madam Secretary, you just don’t care much about civil rights of black and brown children. This is horrible.”

In another fiery back-and-forth, Rep. Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkOvernight Health Care: Trump officials want more time to reunite families | Washington braces for Supreme Court pick | Nebraska could be next state to vote on Medicaid expansion Ryan-aligned PAC launches ads touting House-passed opioid bills Overnight Defense: House passes 5B defense spending bill | Pentagon moving forward on Trump military parade | Mattis vows 'ironclad' support for South Korea's defense MORE (D-Mass.) pressed DeVos nearly a dozen times to provide a clear answer on whether she would ensure that private schools receiving public funds through voucher-style programs would be forced to implement LGBT protections.

“Where federal dollars flow, federal law must be adhered to,” DeVos said over and over, as Clark demanded a simple yes-no response. 

After nearly two minutes of back and forth, DeVos finally conceded that yes, adhering to federal law meant insisting on adherence to federal LGBT protections. 

When it came to guns, DeVos would not reveal her own position on raising the minimum age for arms purchase. In each of three instances that Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanHouse backs resolution expressing support for ICE House GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation MORE (D-Wis.) asked her what she thinks, she deferred to President TrumpDonald John TrumpIran claims it rejected Trump meeting requests 8 times ESPY host jokes Putin was as happy after Trump summit as Ovechkin winning Stanley Cup Russian ambassador: Trump made ‘verbal agreements’ with Putin MORE’s position, until finally saying that she had not yet come to a conclusion on the matter.

Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyClash looms over ICE funding Senate chairman urges move to two-year budgetary process Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Dems see midterm advantage in new ObamaCare fight MORE (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the Appropriations committee, engaged in a lengthy exchange with DeVos about whether states or the federal government had the responsibility to provide parents with information about the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal program.

“IDEA is a federal law, and where federal funds are involved in states, the federal government has a role. But this is a matter for states,” DeVos said at one point during the exchange.

“I don’t understand this,” Lowey said in one of her many attempts to clarify the situation. “You’re saying it’s up the to states. You don’t have any leadership role in presenting the facts? I just want to make sure I understand what you’re saying.”

After nearly eight minutes of confusion, Lowey relented.

“Why don’t we follow up at another time?” she offered. 

At one point, Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroDems launch pressure campaign over migrant families American families need paid leave without sacrificing their retirement Lawmakers request new GAO gender pay study MORE (D-Conn.), the ranking member on the committee, raised her voice and pointed her finger accusatorially at DeVos as she demanded clarity on whether the Education Department was withdrawing consumer protections for student loans.

The Republican members of the committee were less aggressive, but several also pointedly critiqued DeVos and the Trump administration’s education proposals.

Rep. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter Frelinghuysen'Minibus' spending conference committee abruptly canceled GOP runs into Trump tax law in New Jersey Fortenberry named chairman of legislative appropriations subcommittee in House MORE (R-N.J.), the retiring chairman of the Appropriations Committee, chastised DeVos for failing to engage properly with congressional funders. 

“It’s hard to believe that people have been on the job for this long and they don’t have staff that are understanding how the system works,” he said, adding that the criticism was respectful, directed at DeVos’s staff, and echoed a critique he made earlier in the day to Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossOn The Money: Commerce to review uranium imports | Lawmakers urge Trump not to impose auto tariffs | White House wants steeper cuts to EPA funding | Google hit with massive B fine Auto industry groups, lawmakers urge Trump administration to avoid tariffs on auto imports Census Bureau faces hiring woes amid low unemployment MORE.

“I think it’s important for members who pay the bill to meet with the secretaries before they come before the committee,” he added.

Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation GOP centrists face decision day on Dreamer petition Bipartisan support for medical research is good news for all MORE (R-Okla.), the labor subcommittee chairman, demanded to know why the administration was pulling funding support for areas that have large amounts of federal land, such as military bases and Native American tribes. Those places, he noted, don’t contribute to the state and local taxes that largely fund schools. 

“I am concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected,” Cole said. 

DeVos called on an associate from her department to provide a more detailed answer in her stead. 

The testimony comes in the aftermath of a widely-panned “60 Minutes” interview last week, in which DeVos had difficulty answering pointed questions about her policy.