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Democrats’ call for second Betsy DeVos hearing denied

Posted at 5:25 PM, Jan 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-23 17:26:13-05

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill are requesting a second confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump's nominee for education secretary, arguing they need more time to review the West Michigan businesswoman's extensive financial holdings.

The request, submitted Monday from Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee to the Republican chairman, comes after DeVos pledged to the Office of Government Ethics to sever ties with, if confirmed, more than 100 companies or groups she holds financial interests in that pose potential conflicts of interest.

>> READ: Letter from Senate Democrats here.

“Education is too important an issue, and the Secretary of Education is too important a position for the country and for this Committee, to jam a nominee through without sufficient questioning and scrutiny,” the letter sent Monday reads. “This is not about politics, it should not be about partisanship — it should be about doing the work we were elected by our states to do to ask questions of nominees on behalf of the people we represent.”

DeVos, the wife of Dick DeVos, the heir to the Amway marketing fortune, has spent more than two decades advocating for charter schools in Michigan, as well as promoting conservative religious values.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and committee chairman, rejected the formal request ahead of a committee vote that was delayed one week to Jan. 31. A second hearing on DeVos’ nomination will not happen, a committee aide confirmed to FOX 17 Monday afternoon.

“Betsy DeVos has already met with each committee member in their offices, spent nearly an hour and a half longer in her senate hearing than either of President Obama’s education secretaries, and is now answering 837 written questions – 1,397 including all the questions within a question – that Democrats have submitted for her to answer," Alexander said in a statement provided to FOX 17.

"That’s compared with the 81 questions – 109 including all questions within a question – Republicans submitted in writing to Obama’s two secretaries of Education combined.”

In his first daily briefing with reporters Monday, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer took Democrats to task over the continued delay of cabinet confirmations.

"It’s important to note at this point in 2009, President Obama had seven of his nominees confirmed on day one, and five more in the first week," Spicer said. "It's time for Senate Democrats to stop playing political games with the core functions of government.”

Democrats expressed feeling "extremely disappointed" following DeVos' first hearing.

"We would like to ask Ms. DeVos additional questions we were prevented from asking this week given we did not know all of the financial and ethical information that has now been shared with us, as well as address additional questions that have arisen from the OGE paperwork," read the letter signed by 10 Democrats on the committee, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.

Following the recent disclosure of her extensive financial holdings in ethics paperwork filed late last week with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), Democrats say DeVos needs to be pressed on the potential for conflicts of interest.

In a letter to the OGE, DeVos pledged to divest from 102 companies and groups to "avoid any actual or apparent conflict," saying she would do so within 90 days of being confirmed.

At 108 pages, DeVos' financial disclosure form is notably longer than fellow billionaire nominee and commerce secretary pick Wilbur Ross' 57-page report or secretary of state nominee and oil tycoon Rex Tillerson's 38-page report.

>> MORE: See DeVos' complete financial disclosure report here.

Among the companies the GOP mega-donor and education secretary nominee pledged to divest from is a company called Flip Learning, which develops digital college textbooks, and a holding company that invests in Perfromant Business Services, a business hired by the Education Department to collect student loans that have gone into default.

DeVos also pledged to resign from a handful of organizations while still retaining her financial interests in them, including a so-called bio-feedback company called Neurocore, based out of Michigan, which operates drug-free "brain-based diagnostic" centers that claim to help improve sleep and manage stress.

A September MiBiz article about Neurocore highlighted the company's desired plans to expand nationally.

The West Michigan businesswoman also pledged to cut ties with a dozen groups in which she has no financial ties, including the Great Lakes Education Project Foundation, or GLEP, and ArtPrize Grand Rapids.

“Her financial affairs are obviously extensive," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, acknowledged on Monday. "And I support Chairman Alexander's decision to give us an additional week to peruse the additional information that arrived last week from OGE."