Senate committee postpones vote on DeVos nomination

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A U.S. Senate committee has postponed by a week its vote on the nomination of Michigan’s Betsy DeVos to serve as education secretary in the cabinet of President Donald Trump.

The Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions delayed the vote to Jan. 31 to give senators time to review her recent agreement with the Office of Government Ethics.

A spokesman for Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said the committee had received DeVos’ paperwork from the ethics office, which reviews the financial holdings of government officials for potential conflicts of interest.

At Tuesday’s hearing, committee Democrats expressed concerns about the potential conflicts posed by a complex web of investments and transactions by the DeVos family. They asked for more time to question DeVos and examine her disclosures.

Eli Zupnik, a spokesman for Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said Murry was glad the vote has been delayed and hopes that senators “will be given the opportunity to do their due diligence on this nominee and have their questions answered and ethics concerns addressed.”

Zupnik said Murray has also not yet received answers to her questions about missing information in DeVos’ committee financial disclosure.

“And committee Democrats have sent Ms. DeVos a number of reasonable questions for the record that she committed to answer and that they expect clear and complete responses to,” Zupnik said.​​​​​

Alexander stressed that DeVos completed the committee’s paperwork, met privately with each senator on the committee and answered 31/2 hours of questions at Tuesday’s committee hearing.

“We know that Betsy DeVos is a passionate defender of improving opportunities for low-income children who has committed to implement the law fixing No Child Left Behind as Congress wrote it, support public schools, and work to protect all children and students from discrimination and ensure they are educated in a safe environment,” Alexander said in a statement.

At the hearing, DeVos sought to assure the senators that anything deemed a conflict of interest would be divested. DeVos said she and her husband, Dick, would also discontinue political contributions if she is confirmed by the Senate to lead the U.S. Department of Education.

“I will not be conflicted,” DeVos testified.

She also said her family’s investments in a student loan financing company and a chain of for-profit online charter schools are in the process of being divested. DeVos also said she would only accept $1 as her salary, if confirmed.

In a letter to the ethics official at the Department of Education, DeVos promises to not participate “personally or substantially” in matters in which she or family members have a direct financial interest, and to divest within 90 days her interest in 102 listed entities. She intends to keep her position as co-trustee of a set of family trusts but forgo any fees for her services.

DeVos, who is from the Grand Rapids area, is a philanthropist, businesswoman and mega donor to the Republican Party who is viewed as a national leader in the school choice movement.

DeVos, a former two-time chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, until recently led the American Federation for Children, a Washington, D.C.-based organization devoted to expanding school of choice options.

In Senate disclosures, DeVos has said she would serve the full four-year term as education secretary, but that she intends to return to the family businesses in Michigan after completing her service.

Among other resignations, DeVos said she has stepped down as chair of the Windquest Group, the Grand Rapids investment firm she started with husband, Dick, and also left the couple’s foundation.