What Betsy DeVos wishes she said at her confirmation hearing - Axios
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What Betsy DeVos wishes she said at her confirmation hearing

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File

Betsy DeVos, the new education secretary, had a brutal confirmation. She struggled in her hearing, and in short order became a late night punchline, a lightning rod for progressive protesters, and ultimately got confirmed when Mike Pence became the first vice president in history to cast a tiebreaker vote in the Senate for a cabinet nominee.

A week into the job, DeVos still hasn't watched the tape of her confirmation hearing. She says she wouldn't change much because Democrats were trying to get her to commit to things like equal accountability for all schools that receive federal funding — a concept with which she'll never agree.

There's a couple of things, though, she wishes she said differently.

What she said: Responding to a question of whether she believes guns should be allowed in schools, DeVos referred to a Wyoming school and said "there's probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies."

What she wishes she said: "It was a valid illustration," she says now. "It just probably wasn't the best illustration I could have given."

What she said: Tim Kaine asked her whether all K-12 schools receiving federal funding should be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. DeVos replied: "I think that is a matter that's best left to the states," and that, after Kaine pressed further, that it was "certainly worth discussion."

What she wishes she said: "Absolutely. Absolutely ... I have so much compassion for families who have to avail themselves of that law."

Other highlights from our interview with DeVos:

  • On the job: DeVos says she had never given a moment's thought to the job of Education secretary. "It was the day after the election that somebody with whom I've worked for a number of years actually e‑mailed and said, 'Would you ever think about Secretary of Education?' She didn't respond to the email for a day, but after talking to her husband, Dick, she replied: "I literally have never given it a thought, but if the opportunity ever presented itself, how could I not consider it?"
  • On her interactions with Trump: She got enthusiastic about the job when she realized Trump's views on education policy were "very aligned" on both school choice and higher education. She and Trump believe many students aren't well served by four-year college degrees, and they want to promote vocational training as a means of preparing them for work and reducing student debt.
  • On measuring success: DeVos says first measurement of success for the department will be a successful implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which reduces the federal government's role in education. She says it's too early to have numerical goals.
  • On the federal education budget: "There's clearly an opportunity to slim down the department in some ways. I don't know if that will ultimately significantly reduce the overall expenditure, but it may, it may help incentivize states in other ways."
  • On changes in schools during her tenure: "I expect there will be more public charter schools. I expect there will be more private schools. I expect there will be more virtual schools. I expect there will be more schools of any kind that haven't even been invented yet."
In her ideal world, the federal government has any a role in education?
It would be fine with me to have myself worked out of a job, but I'm not sure that — I'm not sure that there will be a champion movement in Congress to do that.
She said that a lot of people are asking that question but that she hasn't reached a conclusion. "I think in some of the areas around protecting students and ensuring safe environments for them, there is a role to play ... I mean, when we had segregated schools and when we had a time when, you know, girls weren't allowed to have the same kind of sports teams — I mean, there have been important inflection points for the federal government to get involved." But are there any remaining issues like that where the federal government should intervene? "I can't think of any now," she replied.
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House and Trump administration to delay insurer subsidy case

(Atef Safadi / EPA Pool via AP)

The House and the Trump administration will seek an additional 90 days to resolve a pending court case over the legality of Affordable Care Act insurer subsidies, the Washington Examiner and CNBC report.

While the subsidies may continue to flow to plans operating on exchanges, the failure to reach a decision doesn't give insurers the certainty they're looking for. Plans must decide whether to participate in federal exchanges by June 21. If they don't get a guarantee that they'll keep receiving the subsidies, plans will likely drastically raise premiums or pull out of exchanges.

The Examiner reports the House and the White House are working on a plan to ensure the subsidies continue going to insurers, who pass them on to low-income enrollees.

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Supreme Court strikes down North Carolina redistricting

Jon Elswick / AP

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that North Carolina Republicans placed too many African-Americans in two congressional voting districts it re-mapped after the 2010 Census, according to the Associated Press.

Why it matters: The 5-3 ruling upholds a federal district court decision that argued North Carolina lawmakers packed more African American residents into the districts than was necessary, which was challenged by the state. But even with the new lines, Republicans continue to hold 10 of the state's 13 districts.

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Pittsburgh sours on Uber's driverless car experiment

Gene J. Puskar / AP

Nine months after Uber rolled out its self-driving car trials in Pittsburgh, the relationship is deteriorating, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: Self-driving car companies are forming partnerships with cities that will allow them to test their vehicles on their streets. It's a high-risk, high-reward proposition for city leaders.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto told The Washington Post this fall, "Is there going to be an accident in a robot car? Yes there is. But the greater goal is to make our streets safer in the long term. We have to start at some point and we can't wait for regulation to catch up with innovation."

The city's complaints: Uber began charging for rides that were expected to be free; it withdrew support from Pittsburgh's application for a major federal grant to overhaul transportation; and it hasn't hired local workers as it promised.

Uber's response: "Uber is proud to have put Pittsburgh on the self-driving map, an effort that included creating hundreds of tech jobs and investing hundreds of millions of dollars," Uber told the Times in a statement. "We hope to continue to have a positive presence in Pittsburgh by supporting the local economy and community."

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Another U.S. chemicals giant strikes global merger

Huntsman Corp. of Texas and Switzerland's Clariant have agreed to an all-stock merger that would create a specialty chemicals giant valued at around $20 billion (including debt). Clariant shareholders would hold around a 52% stake in the combined company, which is expected to generate $13.2 billion in annual sales and $2.3 billion of EBITDA.

Why it's a big deal: This tie-up is part of a trend of cross-border consolidation in the mega-chemicals space, following the pending deal between Praxair (Connecticut) and Linde (Germany) and PPG Industries (Pittsburgh) attempting to purchase Dutch rival Akzo Nobel. It's also notable for private equity buffs (yes, such people exist), as Huntsman was at the center of what arguably was the most contentious M&A failure failure of the financial crisis era.

Fun fact: "Huntsman... is best known for inventing the clam-shell styrofoam box for McDonald's Big Mac burgers." ― Reuters

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Report: Michael Flynn will plead 5th, decline subpoena

Saul Loeb / Pool Photo via AP

The Associated Press is reporting that Michael Flynn, the former general fired from his National Security Advisor role by President Trump for lying about his contacts with Russians, will decline a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

  • The sourcing: "[A] person with direct knowledge of the matter... spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private interactions between Flynn and the committee."
  • Why this was coming: "Legal experts have said Flynn was unlikely to turn over the personal documents without immunity because he would be waiving some of his constitutional protections by doing so. Flynn has previously sought immunity from "unfair prosecution" to cooperate with the committee."

Background on the subpoena, here.

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First-class travel, hotel suites: WHO spending under scrutiny

Raphael Satter / AP

The World Health Organization nearly spent more on travel for its 7,000 staffers in 2016 — $201 million — than its combined programs for AIDS, hepatitis, malaria, tuberculosis, mental health, and substance abuse, which total $213.5 million, per the AP.

  • How it happened: Lax rules surrounding first-class travel and hotel bookings allowed WHO employees to ignore official travel policy. For example, the agency's Ebola head spent nearly $400,000 in West Africa during the crisis, often opting for helicopter travel.
  • Comparisons: Doctors Without Borders spent $43 million on travel for its 37,000 aid workers; UNICEF spent $140 million for its 13,000 staffers.
  • Worth noting: The agency's polio expenditures hit $450 million last year.
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Zuckerberg: I'm not using this trip to run for office

Jeff Chiu / AP

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a Facebook post Sunday:

"Some of you have asked if this challenge means I'm running for public office. I'm not. I'm doing it to get a broader perspective to make sure we're best serving our community of almost 2 billion people at Facebook and doing the best work to promote equal opportunity at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative."

His learned insight: Zuckerberg said he sees an opportunity for Facebook to connect users beyond people they already know, and is hoping to soon introduce a system that recommends "people you should know," like mentors and people outside of your social circle who can provide "a source of support and inspiration."

Read next: Inside Zuck's real political strategy

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Ford replaces CEO Mark Fields with autonomous driving exec

Carlos Osorio / AP

Ford will announce Monday morning that it is replacing CEO Mark Fields with Jim Hackett, who ran Steelcase furniture for 20 years before joining the car company, reports The New York Times. Hackett most recently headed Ford's autonomous vehicle subsidy, known as Ford Smart Mobility.

Under Fields, who served as CEO for three years, Ford shares dropped 40 percent. He also was criticized by investors and the board for failing to make Ford a competitive player in the development of high-tech vehicles for the future.

Between the lines: The shake-up shows that Ford is shifting its focus to accelerate its self-driving technology. As the NYT points out, Ford has lagged behind other large automakers like General Motors and tech companies like Google, both of which have already begun testing their own autonomous vehicles. Ford is promising it will have a fully operating driverless car on the road by 2021.

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Striking AT&T workers head back to bargaining table

CWA

Over the weekend, AT&T stores were closed in a number of cities — from San Francisco to Boston to D.C. — when 40,000 workers walked off the job on Friday after the company failed to reach an agreement with the Communications Workers of America union. (AT&T told Fortune the majority of stores stayed open.)

In Oregon, Sen. Jeff. Merkley joined the picket line with workers. In New York City, Mayor Bill DeBlasio signaled support on Twitter.

Why it matters: It's the first labor strike AT&T has faced since 2012. AT&T is the largest U.S. telecom company, and the only one with a major union presence in its wireless business — the fastest growing part of the company. As a result, AT&T is having to contend with the pressures of competing with nonunion rivals in the increasingly competitive wireless sector, a company spokesman told the NYT.

At issue: CWA says AT&T has cut 12,000 U.S. call center jobs while moving jobs overseas, and has shifted jobs from company-owned retail stories to third-party reseller chains. Workers are also frustrated about rising healthcare costs and changes to commission rates. AT&T, for its part, says it's offering fair wage and pension increases and healthcare benefits. "Our employees are returning to work, and we remain committed to reaching fair agreements in these contracts," a spokesperson said.

What's next: In an email to members Sunday evening, CWA rep Dennis Trainor said the union will be back at the bargaining table Monday: "We stood up not only for ourselves and for our families, but for all working Americans who are sick and tired of being taken advantage of by greedy corporations. This fight is even bigger than AT&T. Let's congratulate ourselves for a job well done and walk into work tomorrow very proud."

Updated to include AT&T statement.

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Tech adoption skyrockets among older adults

Over 40% of American adults ages 65+ own a smartphone, more than double the amount since 2013, according to the latest survey from Pew Research Center. At the same time, more than two-thirds of seniors use the internet — a 55% increase from 2000. And for the first time, half of seniors have broadband at home.

Reproduced from 'Tech Adoption Climbs Among Older Adults' Pew Report

Why it matters: Despite these milestones, seniors still report feeling disconnected from the internet and digital culture. The study also found that roughly one-third of older internet users say they have little to no confidence in their ability to use electronic devices to perform online tasks, and roughly half of seniors say they usually need someone else to set up a new electronic device for them or show them how to use it. As more aspects of daily life become dependent on technology, particularly health care, senior adoption of new technologies will become increasingly important.

Other takeaways: The study also found that broadband access was dependent on household income and education levels. It's important to note that tech adoption among seniors is happening as the average population of seniors is on the rise in the U.S. Today, people ages 65+ account for 15% of the overall U.S. population and that number is expected to jump to 22% by 2050, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections.