Sparks fly between DeVos, Dem on private school protections for LGBT students

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Senate adds members to pro-NATO group Senate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks MORE (D-Ore.) had a fiery exchange with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Tuesday over whether she will prohibit private schools that receive federal funds from discriminating against LGBT students.

DeVos said schools that receive federal funds must follow federal laws, but Merkley pointed out that the federal laws in this area are foggy, referencing the February decision DeVos and Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHomeland Security advisory council members resign over family separations: report Once a Trump critic, Ala. rep faces runoff with his support Ryan: 'The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally' MORE made to rescind Obama-era guidance directing schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.  

“On areas where the law is unsettled, this department is not going to be issuing decrees,” DeVos said during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Education Department's proposed budget. 

“That is a matter for Congress and the courts to settle.”

But Merkley hammered her on the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender student rights.

“Is discrimination going to be allowed or not allowed under your understanding?” he pushed.

DeVos repeated herself in response.  

“I’m going back to what I said earlier,” she said.

 “Well what you said earlier didn’t help us since this in an area of unsettled law,” Merkley retorted.  

Merkley then asked if discrimination on the basis of religion would be allowed in charter or private schools under DeVos’ school voucher program.

“Again, for schools that receive federal funds, federal law must be followed,” she said.

“What is that law in this case, to your understanding?” Merkley asked sharply. “Will such religious discrimination be accepted? Answer the question!”

When DeVos again repeated her previous answer, Merkley asked that the record show the secretary of Education refused to affirm that she would put forward a program that would ban discrimination based on students' gender identity or sexuality or ban discrimination based on religion.

“Senator, that’s not what I said,” DeVos protested. “Discrimination in any form is wrong. I don’t support discrimination in any form.”