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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Scoop: Benny Johnson out at Independent Journal Review

Image courtesy of IJR

Benny Johnson, the viral blogger who's gotten himself in trouble numerous times for plagiarism, is out at Independent Journal Review. In an all-staff email obtained by Axios, IJR CEO Alex Skatell writes, "After over two years at IJR working in a variety of roles, we've made the decision to move forward in different directions. We wish Benny all the best ahead in his future opportunities."

Why it matters: Johnson's reputation affected IJR's editorial brand and company culture. Earlier this year, Business Insider reported that Johnson's behavior violated company ethics and that Johnson was demoted as a result.

The background: Sources say this is part of a quiet, broader effort that began months ago with the collection of feedback from dozens of stakeholders inside and outside of Media Group of America, the holding company for IJR. IMGE, one of the largest center-right digital public affairs firms in Washington, recently spun out from MGA in an effort to ensure IJR's editorial independence.

Johnson joined IJR as creative director in 2015 from The National Review, where he served as social media director. He joined The National Review after being fired from Buzzfeed News for plagiarism.

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ISIS may be dispersed, not destroyed

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

In November 2001, the Taliban abandoned Kabul without a fight, and a month later the U.S. triumphantly installed Hamid Karzai as the new Afghan president. But in reality, the Taliban and their al Qaeda brethren had dispersed, not been killed or crushed. Sixteen years later, they represent a grave threat to the U.S.-backed order in Kabul.

Why it matters: Some Trump administration officials are crowing over the capture of Raqqa, the official capital of ISIS, and the surrender of hundreds of its fighters. But given the escape of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi along with many other fighters, there is a nagging question whether celebration is premature. The group may merely be scattered.

Don't underestimate the victory: ISIS rose to be at once the most brutal and successful terror group in history, earning billions of dollars in oil sales, extortion and taxes, and governing a swath of Syria and Iraq the size of Belgium. The 2014 sweep that produced that state — and its announcement of a caliphate — was a big part of what attracted acolytes the world over. And now it's gone.

  • Perhaps the biggest loss is not Raqqa but its aura of invincibility: The loss of almost all its territory, and the surrender of fighters who formerly vowed to fight to the death, "really brings into question the core ideology," Doug Ollivant, a former director for Iraq on the National Security Councils in the Bush and Obama administrations, says in an email exchange. "This is not to say that violent Islamism disappears, but that groups like al Qaeda might see a resurgence and shift of priority to them."
  • Baghdadi is missing but that does not mean he is safe: Aki Peritz, a former CIA officer for Iraq, notes that the last three terror leaders of Iraq were all killed in the fighting, and that there is a $25 million reward for the current ISIS chief's capture. "No one will give [Baghdadi] refuge; he'll be mercilessly hunted down, along with his entire shura council, in the increasingly small space that ISIS still controls," said Peritz.

But, but, but ... The trouble with dancing on the grave of ISIS is that it fails to understand the history of fights with Islamic extremists.

What to watch: According to Nick Heras of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank, it may appear that ISIS is in retreat mode now, but it's probably just transitioning "from a quasi-state actor … back down to an insurgency."

When to fight, when to flee: It would be madness for ISIS to attempt to hold territory now, given the demonstrated resolve of combined U.S., Russian and Syrian forces. Raqqa-based ISIS fighters had retreated to the neighboring area of Deir al-Zour, but in recent days, they have been largely pushed out of there, according to the NYT's Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad.

  • But it would equally be a mistake, given the history of Iraqi militant groups and their Baathist collaborators managing to resurrect themselves, to treat ISIS as dead.

Look far afield: We can likely expect more suicide bombers in the Middle East and more terrorist attacks linked to ISIS abroad from now on, Heras warned. David Sterman, a fellow at New America, the D.C. think tank, noted that ISIS affiliates remain active in Libya, Mali, Afghanistan, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

  • Plus, ISIS retains followers in Europe, where attacks over the last three years have killed more than 350 people. They're "hoping to use … these trump cards to undermine the narrative that its caliphate has been crushed," Heras said.

The ground remains fertile for militants: In the mishmash of overlapping interests in the region — among Assad, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the U.S. — a destabilizing force could rise, just as ISIS arose amid unhappiness with bad governance and the Sunni-Shia divide.

"There is the real risk of seeing the next generation — the son of ISIS," said Melissa Dalton of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. CIA director Mike Pompeo echoed this possibility, noting this week that it would be "foolish" to think a "son" of ISIS couldn't crop up.

What's next: The Trump administration is going to face pressure to figure out its long-term strategy. Brian McKeon, a former Defense Department official and National Security Council staffer under Obama, says a lack of policy for the region from the Trump administration poses problems moving forward, especially since "the military campaign is by no means over."

For now, the U.S.-led coalition is in talks with Syrian Democratic Forces about continuing the anti-ISIS campaign into some of the territory still held by ISIS along the Euphrates River, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, Col. Ryan Dillon, told reporters this week. That could potentially engage U.S. service members further.

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Volcanic activity created a cave under the moon's surface

Photo: Charlie Riedel / AP

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) discovered a chasm beneath the surface of the moon, measuring 50 km long and 100 meters wide, according to The Guardian.

Why it matters: Jaxa identified the cave as a lava tube created by volcanic activity over three billion years ago. A senior Jaxa researcher, Junichi Haruyama, said lava tubes could be "the best candidate sites for future lunar bases."

People and equipment are at risk from extreme temperatures on the moon, varying from 107 degrees Celsius during the day and -153 degrees Celsius at night. The lava tubes could protect astronauts from those extremes, as well as from sun's radiation. But, the inside of the chamber hasn't been seen yet, and Haruyama said further examination would provide more details. It could also offer "insights concerning the evolutionary history of the moon."

The cave's discovery "will boost plans by several countries to send astronauts to the moon almost half a century after the Apollo 11 mission," the Guardian reports. While the U.S. is the only country to have put humans on the moon, Japan has made it a goal for 2030, the same year that Russia expects to begin work on a human colony on the moon's surface.

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FBI joins investigation into Niger ambush

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis answers a question about the ambush of U.S. troops in Niger. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

The FBI is assisting in investigating the ambush in Niger more than two weeks ago that left four U.S. soldiers dead; specifically, the Islamist militants believed to be responsible for the attack, and how they learned of the U.S.-Niger patrol, according to the Wall Street Journal.

What happened: The WSJ reports that the American team was on a routine patrol with Nigerian soldiers, when they "gave chase to a small group of men on motorcycles" heading towards Mali's border. The group was a decoy; when the joint patrol returned, they were ambushed by "several technical vehicles and dozens more armed men on motorcycles."

Go deeper: What happened during this month's Niger attack..

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Snap reduces headcount, plans slower hiring for 2018

Evan Spiegel speaks at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in Beverly Hills. Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images

Snapchat parent company Snap has laid off employees as it slows its growth heading into 2018, Business Insider reports. The company has grown fast over the past two years: it had 600 employees at the end of 2015 and ended last quarter with 2,600.

Why it matters: Snap believes the company has reached a size that is functioning well, so it is reducing its rate of hiring and therefore cutting some staff recruiter roles. The company said it will continue to hire aggressively in engineering and sales roles, but the overall pace of those hires will also slow next year.

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White House: We "won't rest" until we get answers on Niger ambush

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday that the White House "won't rest" until they get to the bottom of what happened during the Niger ambush.

When pressed for more answers from reporters, Sanders pointed to the investigation initiated by the Department of Defense, which she said "occurs any time an American is killed in action" and stated that "frankly, the entire country and government wants to know what happened."

Briefing highlights:

  • On Gen. Kelly's incorrect statement on Rep. Wilson: "If you want to get into a debate with a four-star marine general, I think that's highly inappropriate," adding that Kelly "absolutely" stands by his comments.
  • Did Trump misstep in his condolence call? "If the spirit of which the comments were intended [was] misunderstood, that's very unfortunate."
  • Gen. Kelly's thoughts on Rep. Wilson's rebuke of Trump's call to the widow of a fallen soldier: "General Kelly said he was stunned that she made the comments about herself."
  • On George W. Bush's speech: "Our understanding is that those comments were not directed at the president."
  • Next disaster relief supplemental funding bill will be sent to Congress "in the coming weeks."
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John Kelly told incorrect story about Florida congresswoman

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly takes questions during a surprise damage-control appearance at the daily briefing. (AP's Susan Walsh)

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly incorrectly told reporters from the White House podium that Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson claimed she "got the money" for a new FBI building in Miramar, Florida, at its dedication in 2015. The Sun-Sentinel unearthed video of Wilson's speech at the dedication event, where she took credit for securing quick approval for naming the building after deceased FBI agents but never mentioned funding.

Timing: Kelly's misrepresentation of what happened comes amid the White House's current feud with Wilson and the Gold Star widow of a soldier killed in Niger, which began over President Trump's alleged thoughtless choice of words.

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Body cams fail to curb police aggression

A photo of the screen during the trial of Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown who shot and killed 23-year-old Sylville Smith after a routine traffic stop last August. Photo: Milwaukee Police Department / AP

Police officers in D.C. who were given body cameras were just as likely to use force and receive civilian complaints as those who did not wear cameras, according to a newly released study of more than 1,000 police officers over seven months by the Lab @ D.C.

Why it matters: Previous studies bolstered the idea that body cameras were extremely effective for cutting back the use of force and civilian complaints. This led to body cam companies like Axon and Watchguard selling hundreds of thousands of body cameras across the country — Watchguard even filed for an IPO yesterday. Now this latest study calls into question the real impact body cameras have in changing aggressive policing culture.

On the other hand: Even if body cams are ineffective at keeping law enforcement from using force, they still provide a layer of accountability and have provided useful evidence in police shooting cases.

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Most Americans don't have much confidence in Trump's legacy

Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

Most Americans, 58%, don't have high expectations for President Trump's legacy, according to a new Marist Poll. The poll found that 42% of those surveyed believe Trump will be remembered as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history and 16% believe he is a below-average leader.

Why it matters: "Deep into his first year as president, Donald Trump's less than stellar approval rating has lowered expectations about how history will judge him," Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said in a statement. "For history to treat him kinder, he will have to up his game."

The findings:

  • Combined parties: 58% believe he will be either the worst or at least a below-average president; 19% see him as an average president; 11% think he will be seen as above average; and, 7% believe he will be seen one of the best leaders.
  • Among Republicans: 22% believe Trump will be remembered as one of the best presidents, and 26% think above average. 31% think his legacy will be an average one. Meanwhile, 83% of Republicans either strongly approve or approve of Trump's performance so far.
  • Among Democrats: 70% think Trump will be considered one of the worst U.S. presidents. Meanwhile, 7% either strongly approve or approve of Trump's performance so far.
Methodology:
  • The poll includes a survey of 1,093 adults conducted Oct. 15–17. The margin of error was 3%.
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McCain's new memoir to be released in April

Matt Rourke / AP

Senator John McCain is writing a memoir titled "The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations," which will be published by Simon & Shuster's this coming April, according to the AP. The Senator received a brain cancer prognosis in July, five months after signing on for the book deal, and has become an emboldened critic of President Trump.

Why it matters: The memoir has already changed its focus since McCain's diagnosis, from international issues to more of a reflective work on McCain's experience and career, per AP. Originally, the title was slated to be: "It's
Always Darkest Before It's Totally Black." "This memoir will be about what matters most to him, and I hope it will be regarded as the work of an American hero," said Jonathan Karp, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster's.