Hearing to consider Betsy DeVos nomination set for next week

Posted at 12:08 PM, Jan 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-04 18:36:31-05

WASHINGTON — Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. Education Secretary, is scheduled to go before a Senate committee Jan. 11 for a hearing to determine whether she will officially fill the role.

The hearing for the West Michigan philanthropist is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11 in Washington, D.C., according to the committee's website.

Trump, in announcing DeVos as his pick for the position in November, called her a "brilliant and passionate education advocate," in a statement.

However, her hearing could hit a political roadblock. Democrats have publicly targeted eight Cabinet nominees—including DeVos—threatening to drag out the process.

Democrats say they plan to target eight of Trump’s cabinet nominees, including West Michigan businesswoman Betsy DeVos.

If carried through, the threat could delay confirming the President-elect's choices for months. Those targeted also include attorney general pick Jeff Sessions, health and human services secretary hopeful Tom Price and secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson,

"I’m a little surprised that Betsy DeVos has made the list of eight, I think if it were a list of four she would not even be on it," said Doug Koopman, political analyst and Calvin College professor.

"It’s not likely to mean a whole lot."

Koopman said the choice to target DeVos is peculiar, given the company she's with on the list. He contends it's a chance for Democrats to make an ideological statement.

"Based on who their core constituencies are—public school teachers and public education in general—it’s really about party positions for Democrats on public education and government funded education that Ms. DeVos has strongly opposed," Koopman told FOX 17.

Democrats are unlikely to have the votes to block most of these nominees, but their threat to delay the confirmation process of Trump's Cabinet could hamper the new administration, which has promised a fast start in undoing policies of outgoing President Barack Obama.

Koopman says the committee hearing is a small step in a much larger, extensive process that nominees have been going through for weeks.

"What we’ll see next Wednesday at the hearing is only the tip of the iceberg of the vetting that goes on," he said. "It’s an important vetting process—(DeVos) has been given questionnaires, she’s been given private interviews, she’s talked individually with each of the senators."

Once the committees have voted to send the nominations to the floor, Democrats, who have 48 seats compared to 52 for Republicans, can force delays for up to about one week per nominee, meaning it could take months to get through all the major posts.

But without GOP support, Democrats will be unable to use the ultimate stopping power of the filibuster to block nominees they oppose because in the last Congress they changed Senate rules — over the objection of Republicans — to lower the threshold of votes to overcome a filibuster of executive branch nominees from 60 to 51.

That means they best they can do is use procedural delays to stall a final confirmation vote.

US President-elect Donald Trump listens as Betsy DeVos, his pick for education secretary, speaks during the USA Thank You Tour December 9, 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. / AFP / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

In December, DeVos joined Trump on stage during his 'Thank You' tour rally stop in Walker.

DeVos' vocal support of charter schools and school of choice has also made her a prime target of critics in public education.

“It’s time to make education great again in this country,” DeVos said during the rally, before briefly being interrupted by hecklers. "There is a lot of false news out there, all I ask for is an open mind an opportunity to share my heart."

DeVos heads the advocacy group American Federation for Children. She's known for supporting charter schools and vouchers.

Before Trump's announcement, some conservatives were complaining about DeVos' ties to the political establishment. They also warned that she previously supported Common Core standards that Trump railed against during the campaign.

GOP ally and party leader in Michigan John Inhulsen says he doubts that will be much of an issue during hearings.

"She believes in a fair and balanced education for everybody regardless of where you get it," Inhulsen said. "(Democrats) are going to try to do the same thing that they complained about the Republicans doing. It’s the tit for tat, typical Washington D.C. politics."

The 58-year-old DeVos is a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman. Her husband, Dick, is an heir to the Amway fortune and a former company president.

CNN, the Associated Press and FOX 17s Josh Sidorowicz contributed to this report.