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

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.

"Trump slump" in U.S. tourism

Interest in traveling to the U.S. has dropped 17% since Trump's inauguration, according to Hopper, an app for tracking flight price quotes. Hopper tracks between ten billion and fifteen billion airfare price searches every day.

Why this matters: International tourism to the U.S. is calculated as an export, so this could increase our trade deficit, which will irk Trump, according to Quartz. Right now, San Francisco, Baltimore, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles airports are the most affected. This is also an indication that there may be fewer tourists visintin restaurants, museums, and landmarks.

A notable exception: Travel interest from Russia is way up at 88%.

Data: Hopper Research; Methodology: Comparing the weekly average flight searches to the U.S. on Hopper during Dec. 29, 2016 - Jan. 18, 2017 and Jan. 26 - Feb. 1, 2017; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

It's not normal: There was only a 1.8% decline in interest this time last year, meaning the dip in interest now is not seasonal.

It's not just the travel ban: Interest was already declining in the three weeks building up to the inauguration, and data from 94 of 122 countries indicates a diminished interest in traveling to the U.S.


Warning to governors: Big coverage losses under GOP health plan

Cliff Owen / AP

Hundreds of thousands of people in a typical state would lose coverage under a standard Republican Obamacare repeal and replacement plan, and the state would lose anywhere between 65 and 80 percent of its federal health care funding, according to a presentation governors were given at a meeting in Washington Saturday.

Governors from both parties were presented with the findings during a National Governors Association closed-door health care meeting. The analyses, obtained by Axios, were presented by Avalere Health and McKinsey & Co. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price also spoke to the group. Read on for more highlights.


Breitbart reporter to interview President Trump in Oval Office

Trump's Oval Office has a portrait of Andrew Jackson / AP's Alex Brandon

Breitbart's Washington editor Matthew Boyle is scheduled to interview President Trump on Monday afternoon in the Oval Office, according to sources familiar with the arrangements.

Why this matters: It's the latest sign of Breitbart's clout and comes amid access concerns by reporters at outlets like the New York Times and CNN, which were shut out of a gaggle with Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Friday.


EPA chief offers conservative rallying cry ahead of regs assault

Susan Walsh / AP

New EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told a major conservative conference on Saturday to expect action from the Trump administration as soon as next week to start unwinding ex-President Obama's environmental rules.

"There are some regulations that in the near term need to be rolled back in a very aggressive way, and I think maybe next week you may be hearing about some of those," he said at the Conservative Political Action Conference. He didn't offer details, but the White House is expected to issue executive orders that start rolling back Obama rules to bolster Clean Water Act regulation and cut carbon emissions from power plants.

Why it matters: Pruitt's remarks amounted to a conservative battle cry against EPA that went well beyond his more staid opening address to agency employees last week. He said antipathy toward EPA is "justified," noting: "I think people across this country look at the EPA much like they look at the IRS, and I hope to be able to change that."

How they'll defend the rollback: Pruitt cast Obama's extensive work on global warming as a distraction from EPA's programs on water quality, air pollution, and hazardous waste cleanup. That's a signal that the Trump administration will use the argument to justify its rollback of the climate change regulations.


Democrats pick Perez

AP Photo/Branden Camp

Tom Perez will be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He defeated Keith Ellison.

Why this matters: Ellison is a House member from Minnesota and the first Muslim elected to Congress. He was backed by Bernie Sanders. Perez was President Obama's Labor secretary and had the backing of former Vice President Biden. So the race was seen as a contest between the party establishment and its left wing.

But, but, but... Perez picked Ellison to be his deputy chair.

Who to watch: Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, used his speech today to drop out of the running for chair and then didn't endorse. A lot of sharp political minds called that a good move. He got noticed as a rising star, avoided a distant-third place finish, and didn't antagonize the eventual winner.


Trump's EPA transition head troubled by signs of moderation

Myron Ebell, who led Trump's EPA transition team and wrote the action plan for the environmental agency, was troubled to read in the Wall Street Journal about the moderating influence of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump over the Trump Administration's environmental policies.

They appear to have forgotten who voted for Trump and why. — Ebell in an e-mail when we asked him what he thought about the WSJ story

Why this matters: Ebell no longer works for Trump but his perspective reflects the views of environmental hardliners within the president's orbit. His passionate response to the WSJ story — which says Kushner intervened in an executive order drafting to scrap language critical of the 2015 global climate deal — telegraphs inevitable tensions between the White House's moderating influences (Jared and Ivanka) and those who want to gut the regulatory state using the sharpest knife in the drawer.


Churches ready to shelter immigrants and sneak them into Canada

Gregory Bull / AP

Churches around the country are gearing up to shelter immigrants imperiled by raids and in what BuzzFeed calls a "modern-day underground railroad" also work to spirit people to Canada. Members of churches are also signing up to volunteer spaces in their homes to hide immigrants. BuzzFeed says more than 800 churches have signed up with the National Sanctuary Movement to support the effort.


Some thoughts from Warren Buffett

AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File

Warren Buffett released his highly-anticipated annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders Saturday morning. It's widely read for clues on where the world's most famous investor thinks the economy and markets are headed. Key points:

  • Hedge funds stink: Buffet devoted nearly 5 pages to condemning hedge funds for charging high fees while delivering meager results to their investors: "When trillions of dollars are managed by Wall Streeters charging high fees, it will usually be the managers who reap outsized profits, not the clients."
  • Immigration is good: Buffet said that you don't need to be an economist to understand that immigration has been at the foundation of what makes America great, adding that immigrants are partly responsible for the nation's "miraculous" economic growth. Note, however, that Buffet never mentions President Trump by name in his letter.
  • Stocks will continue to go up: "The years ahead will occasionally deliver major market declines — even panics — that will affect virtually all stocks." But don't panic, he says. "Yes, the build-up of wealth will be interrupted for short periods from time to time. It will not, however, be stopped... American business — and consequently a basket of stocks— is virtually certain to be worth far more in the years ahead."
And he heaps praise on Jack Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group and father of low-fee index funds. "If a statue is ever erected to honor the person who has done the most for American investors, the hands-down choice should be Jack Bogle," Buffett writes.


Darrell Issa calls for special prosecutor on Trump-Russia

Last night on Real Time with Bill Maher, California Republican Darrell Issa said the House and Senate intelligence committees will investigate potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign activities, which will require a special prosecutor:

"You cannot have somebody, a friend of mine Jeff Sessions, who was on the campaign and who is an appointee. You're going to need to use the special prosecutor's statute and office to take — not just to recuse. You can't just give it to your deputy. That's another political appointee."

Clip below (the relevant bit starts six minutes in)...


Buffett: America is still awesome

AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File

Warren Buffett released his annual letter to shareholders today and in it calls America's achievements "miraculous."

Americans have combined human ingenuity, a market system, a tide of talented and ambitious immigrants, and the rule of law to deliver abundance beyond any dreams of our forefathers ... Yes, the build-up of wealth will be interrupted for short periods from time to time. It will not, however, be stopped. I'll repeat what I've both said in the past and expect to say in future years: Babies born in America today are the luckiest crop in history.