Trump, DeVos bungle Special Olympics budget

President TrumpDonald John TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' MORE and Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosCongress should restore Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated individuals Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records MORE stumbled this week in explaining the administration’s proposed budget cuts to the Special Olympics.

In two separate congressional hearings, DeVos found herself defending the cuts in Trump’s 2020 spending request, only to have the president turn around and denounce his own proposal.

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The contrasting positions played out amid a backdrop of lawmakers grilling agency chiefs about draconian cuts to popular government programs, leaving administration officials with the choice of defending the spending reductions or disagreeing with Trump, who is known to prize loyalty among his Cabinet members.

DeVos went before appropriators to defend the administration’s proposal to slash $8.5 billion, or 12 percent, from the education budget.

"It eliminates 30 programs, it significantly reduces funding for several others," said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime MORE (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that covers education. "There are programs here that are unlikely to be eliminated in any final budget.”

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayFinding a path forward to end surprise medical billing Trump's new labor chief alarms Democrats, unions Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders mounts staunch defense of 'Medicare for All' | Biden, Sanders fight over health care heats up | House votes to repeal ObamaCare 'Cadillac Tax' | Dems want details on fetal tissue research ban MORE (Wash.), the top Democrat on the committee, drove the point home more aggressively.

"Your budget request fails to invest in our youngest learners, our students in public schools,” she said. “It fails to help students who are struggling to better themselves in higher education, and it fails student loan borrowers who are saddled with debt.”

DeVos responded by saying tough fiscal times called for tough fiscal measures.

“We had to make tough choices and decisions around budget priorities," she told senators.

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But appropriators seized on the $18 million cut for the Special Olympics, the world’s largest sporting event for adults with disabilities. Trump has proposed cutting funding to it in each of his three annual budget proposals.

“I have given a portion of my salary to Special Olympics. I hope all of this debate inspires private contributions to Special Olympics," DeVos said, arguing that the program could make up the government shortfall through charitable donations.

When pressed, she said she did not know how many children might be impacted by the cuts, a figure Democrats put at 272,000.

The spectacle set off waves of negative headlines and reactions, including from the Special Olympics chairman and ESPN personalities. With no signs to change course from the White House, DeVos maintained her position from Tuesday's House hearing at the follow-up Senate hearing on Thursday.

But DeVos was not the only member of the administration forced to defend Trump’s budget in front of angry lawmakers.

Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget plan calls for slashing domestic spending by as much as 9 percent, with many of the cuts targeted at key programs. It suggested shaving a third off the Environmental Protection Agency, axing nearly a quarter from the State Department, and lopping off more than a fifth from the Department of Transportation, which oversees much of the nation's federal infrastructure.

In a hearing on the National Science Foundation (NSF), the country’s leading non-medical research organization, Director France A. Córdova thanked the committee for record-high funding in 2019, and she reminded members that previous funding had led to major achievements, including technologies necessary for smartphones, weather radars and even sign language. She proceeded to defend a proposed 12 percent budget cut as a contribution toward deficit reduction.

“Why would anyone in the world want to cut NSF funding given that its funding drives our economy, enhances our national security and advances this nation’s leadership globally?” asked Rep. Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightHouse Dems up funding for science agencies, ignoring proposed Trump cuts Overnight Energy: Dems press Interior chief to embrace climate action | Lawmakers at odds on how to regulate chemicals in water | Warren releases climate plan for military Interior chief dismisses climate concerns in first Natural Resources hearing: 'I haven't lost any sleep over it' MORE (D-Pa.).

Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryAmazon taps Trump ally to lobby amid Pentagon cloud-computing contract fight How to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy Senior Trump administration official to leave post next week MORE, meanwhile, defended an 11 percent cut to his budget by saying, "Success will be measured not by the dollars spent but by the results achieved."

Rep. Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturCritics worry Trump turning blind eye to honeybee decline House panel advances billion energy bill, defying Trump Dems walk Trump trade tightrope MORE (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies, told him the budget request "is riddled with backward looking proposals." She pointed to cuts in energy efficiency programs, a $1 billion reduction in energy research and the elimination of weatherization programs.

Democrats fumed over the proposed elimination of entities like the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment House votes to kill impeachment effort against Trump Hillicon Valley: Trump officials to investigate French tax on tech giants | Fed chair raises concerns about Facebook's crypto project | FCC blocks part of San Francisco law on broadband competition | House members warn of disinformation 'battle' MORE (D-N.Y.) called Trump’s spending proposal “devastating” and pointed to “deep cuts in investments in clean energy, mental health services, after-school programs and much more.”

For administration officials like DeVos, this week’s experience highlights the challenge of defending Trump’s spending priorities without any guarantee he will back them up.

At one point, DeVos attempted to push back on her congressional critics.

"Let’s not use disabled children in a twisted way for your political narrative, that is just disgusting and shameful and I think we should move on from that," she said at the Senate hearing.

But when reporters asked Trump about the proposed cuts, he distanced himself from the matter — two days after DeVos’s initial testimony and after her second congressional hearing.

“I have overridden my people,” he said.” We're funding the Special Olympics.”

DeVos then released a statement saying she and Trump “see eye-to-eye” on the issue.

Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanHouse Democrats delete tweets attacking each other, pledge to unify The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment MORE (D-Wis.), who grilled DeVos at the House hearing, jokingly called for someone to “pull Betsy from under the bus.”