Cabinet candidate Betsy DeVos to meet Trump Saturday

Melissa Nann Burke and Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Donald Trump plans to meet Saturday with Betsy DeVos, the GOP mega donor from the Grand Rapids area and a school choice advocate who is reportedly a candidate to serve as the president-elect’s secretary of education.

Transition officials told reporters Friday that the DeVos meeting will take place in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Trump is also meeting Saturday with Mitt Romney, the Detroit native, Republican presidential nominee in 2012 and an outspoken Trump critic during this year’s campaign. Trump is reportedly considering Romney for secretary of state.

“These meetings that the president-elect is holding are showing that he is meeting some of the best, brightest and most qualified people, not only to fill specific roles within the administration, but also to give advice and counsel on the policies and structure of how to best put together a team and enact a successful agenda,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller said.

“It also goes to fact that President-elect Trump is not putting together meetings based on political affiliation or if they supported him in the past. He’s bringing together a broad and diverse team to help come up with a number of different policies and procedures and specific team members to help move our country forward.”

DeVos is among a handful of candidates under consideration for the Department of Education post, according to news reports citing sources close to the Trump transition team. Also on Saturday, Trump is meeting another education post candidate, former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Miller and another transition official on the call would not comment specifically on the DeVos meeting.

“Some people are coming in for specific cabinet or administration positions, and some are coming in to talk about how we can best move America forward,” Miller said when asked about DeVos and Rhee.

“The folks who you’ve mentioned are being brought in because they have experience in their respective fields and have great ideas for a number of different things. ... We also feel that everybody who is coming forward would be highly qualified and well-suited to share their top-level expertise.”

DeVos family spokesman Greg McNeilly deferred a request for comment to the Trump team.

DeVos, 58, is a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and was a driving force behind a failed 2000 ballot proposal to amend the state Constitution to create a voucher system allowing taxpayer funds to support students attending nonpublic schools.

DeVos was a Republican National Committee member in the 1990s and was twice elected chair of the state Republican Party. She currently chairs the American Federation for Children, a national group advocating for school choice policies, and sits on the board of the Great Lakes Education Project, a pro-charter lobby group in Michigan.

Eileen Weiser, a Republican member of the State Board of Education whose husband helped raise money for the Trump campaign, said Thursday she had not heard the speculation surrounding DeVos for education secretary but called her a champion for helping connect kids with good schools.

“If that’s charters, so be it, or vouchers or education savings accounts, she believes children are the center of education and that adults need to accept that and get on with it,” Weiser said.

DeVos’ business background also shows she knows how to administer large institutions, Weiser continued. DeVos and her husband, Amway heir and 2006 gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos, founded the Windquest Group “enterprise and investment” management firm.

“She comes from a get-it-done, don’t-pass-the-buck business environment, and Donald Trump would be the first person to understand that,” Weiser said.

Betsy DeVos shared a table with Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Tuesday during a Republican Governors Association dinner in Orlando, said former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis.

She was not a vocal Trump supporter during his presidential run. DeVos told The Detroit News in July she was not ready to back the New York real estate mogul, and she was not among four members of her family who attended a late September fundraiser for Trump and the Republican Party in Grand Rapids.

DeVos donated more than $320,000 to the Republican Party, candidates and political organizations in 2016, but she did not contribute to Trump’s campaign after giving to both former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina during the GOP primaries.

DeVos’ brother is Erik Prince, founder and former CEO of the security firm Blackwater Worldwide that was banned from Iraq after the fatal shootings of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

Prince has said he believes politics were behind the convictions of four employees of the defense contractor who were charged in connection with the 2007 incident. Blackwater is now known as Academi.

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