Warren turns her fire on DeVos

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHouse Armed Services votes to make Pentagon rename Confederate-named bases in a year Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP MORE (D-Mass.) is setting her sights on Betsy DeVos, the wealthy Republican donor who has become a lightning rod for the liberal grassroots as President Trump’s secretary of Education.

Warren on Wednesday announced the launch of DeVos Watch, a coordinated effort to scrutinize the secretary’s handling of the $1 trillion federal student loan program and her oversight of student loan servicers, among other issues.

“We all have an interest in a well-run, fiscally responsible, corruption-free student aid program that puts students first. That is Secretary DeVos' job — and it is Congress' job to make sure she does it,” Warren wrote in an op-ed published by CNN. 


Recently, Warren has raised concerns over potential ethics violations at the Department of Education, pushed DeVos to reinstate student loan protections and pressed the Trump administration to shield student loan borrowers from unnecessary fees. 

The salvos targeting DeVos are just the latest attempt by Warren to branch out from her expertise on financial matters — a pattern that has fueled speculation she is eyeing a presidential bid in 2020.

After the 2016 election, Warren joined the Senate Armed Services Committee, giving her a chance to gain experience on the military matters that are crucial for the commander in chief.

Warren in April said she’s not running for the White House — a standard answer at this point in the election cycle — but Democratic strategists say her fast-growing record on education could prove to be a major asset in 2020.

“If you believe there is a correlation between education and wages and the health of society, you cannot be a serious presidential candidate, certainly in the Democratic Party, unless you have a strong record on education,” said Steve Jarding, a Democratic strategist who worked for the leadership PACs of former Sens. John Edwards (D-N.C.) and Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), who both ran for president. 

Already, Republicans are treating Warren as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

America Rising, a national Republican political advocacy group, has launched a project to compile opposition research and track all of Warren’s public appearances in hopes of catching gaffes.

Warren is ratcheting up her tactics as well by taking aim at DeVos, a Trump Cabinet official who has faced vehement opposition from the left, including from powerful teachers unions.

DeVos, who is married to the co-founder of Amway, faced an intense public backlash during her Senate confirmation process, with Democrats assailing her as woefully ignorant of the basics of education policy. 

Her strong support of charter schools and tuition vouchers, meanwhile, prompted liberal groups to label DeVos an enemy of public education.

The outcry against DeVos was intense enough that two Republican senators — Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Stagwell President Mark Penn says Trump is losing on fighting the virus; Fauci says U.S. 'going in the wrong direction' in fight against virus GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday Senate passes extension of application deadline for PPP small-business loans MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators will have access to intelligence on Russian bounties on US troops Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Senators push to limit transfer of military-grade equipment to police MORE (Alaska) — voted against DeVos’s confirmation, forcing Vice President Pence to break a tie.

The controversy has followed DeVos into office, making her a prime target for Democrats as they seek to make gains in the 2018 and 2020 elections. 

In a video posted on her Senate website, Warren on Wednesday highlighted DeVos’s decision to hire Robert Eitel, a senior lawyer for a company that owns for-profit colleges that have been under state and federal investigation.

She also cited DeVos’s hiring of Taylor Hansen, a top lobbyist for for-profit colleges, which Warren immediately protested when it was announced in March. Hansen resigned when Warren wrote to DeVos about the lobbyist’s “glaring conflicts of interests.”

“The revolving door that shuttles people between government jobs and the corporations they police is corrosive — but it is rarely this brazen,” Warren wrote in the op-ed. 

Warren came to Washington in 2008 at the invitation of former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell warns Democrats not to change filibuster rule Filibuster reform gains steam with Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Trump wants executive order on policing; silent on pending bills MORE (D-Nev.) to serve on the congressional oversight panel tasked with overseeing the Wall Street bailout program known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

She made a name for herself at Harvard Law School as an expert in bankruptcy law and a critic of Wall Street practices. She later became an early advocate for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and, since her election to the Senate, has worked to defend the regulations of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.

In 2014 and 2015, when Warren’s name was floated as a possible challenger to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Nicole Malliotakis wins New York primary to challenge Max Rose Trump's evangelical approval dips, but remains high How Obama can win back millions of Trump voters for Biden MORE for the 2016 presidential nomination, one of the knocks against her was that she would be a single-issue candidate, known mostly for her criticism of big banks. 

But upon coming to the Senate in 2013 and in every year since, Warren has steadily worked to burnish her credentials on education. 

In 2013, she introduced legislation to that would have allowed students to take out federal loans at the same discounted rate that the Federal Reserve offers to banks. She said the federal government should not be profiting off students who have to go deep into debt to finance their educations.

That same year, she led a revolt against a bipartisan bill that capped most student loan rates at 8.25 percent, winning the support of liberals such as Sens. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenate Dems request briefing on Russian bounty wire transfers Overnight Defense: Democrats blast Trump handling of Russian bounty intel | Pentagon leaders set for House hearing July 9 | Trump moves forward with plan for Germany drawdown Top Senate Democrats request Esper, Pompeo testify over Russian bounties reports MORE (D-R.I.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersHickenlooper beats back progressive challenge in Colorado primary Progressive groups urge Biden to tap Warren as running mate Young Turks host says Elizabeth Warren should be Biden's VP pick MORE (I-Vt.).

The following year, Warren introduced legislation that would have let students refinance their debt within the federal system, allowing them to keep various government protections instead of having to find private, third-party lenders to refinance as interest rates fall. In June of 2014, her bill to allow student borrowers to refinance at a lower rate fell only four votes shy of overcoming a Senate filibuster.

More recently, Warren clashed with the Obama administration for not using more of the federal government’s leverage with private student loan servicers to push for better business practices.

In May of last year, Warren ramped up pressure on James Runcie, the Department of Education’s chief operating officer, to crack down on Navient Solutions, a company that manages student loans on behalf of the federal government. Navient had been the subject of investigations by the Justice Department and other federal agencies because of consumer complaints. 

Warren argues that the federal government, which doles out hundreds of millions of dollars to private loan servicers, should use that leverage to enact reforms within the industry. 

She has worked on smaller education-related issues as well.

Last year she won a change to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to ensure that school literacy program grants allow states to use speech pathologists and audiologists. 

She also worked with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyConnecticut senators call for Subway to ban open carry of firearms Democrats optimistic about chances of winning Senate Gridlock mires chances of police reform deal MORE (D-Conn.), two other potential White House hopefuls, to include language in the bill requiring states to identify and provide extra resources to schools with high dropout rates.

Her work on education could be just as valuable in 2020 as her long-running battles with Wall Street, Democratic strategists say. 

Jarding said the GI bill, which financed the education of low-income and middle-class veterans returning from fighting overseas in World War II, became a major engine for prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s. 

“If you don’t embrace that as a Democrat or you don’t appreciate that history, I don’t think you can be a serious candidate in 2020, particularly because education is under further assault with Trump,” said Jarding, who also teaches political messaging at Harvard University.