As Zoë Carpenter said over at The Nation, Betsy DeVos failed her education secretary test last week. During the process, the radical Christian and billionaire revealed her ignorance of common debates in education and of existing federal laws. She even told Senator Chris Murphy, who represents the state where a man murdered 20 first-graders in a school shooting, that the decision to allow guns in schools should be left to the states. She didn't cite the 2nd or 10th Amendments to support her claim, but rather a passing fear of grizzly bear intrusion.
But, in a move reminiscent of the way private schools function in society, DeVos and her family have donated millions to the Republican party, so Republicans have inflated her grade. Though she's likely to be confirmed when the senate committee convenes again on January 31, Washington Democrats have been doing their part to slow the process.
On Monday, Senator Patty Murray and other Democrats in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee requested a second hearing for DeVos. The chairman, Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) only allowed five minutes for each committee member to get their questions asked and answered, an amount of time the group deemed "insufficient," especially considering that DeVos hadn't turned in her ethics paperwork prior to the hearing. The chairman rejected the request this Wednesday, seemingly out of spite.
On Thursday, Senator Maria Cantwell, who is up for re-election in 2018, said in a statement that she plans to vote against DeVos:
Public education boosts millions out of poverty and gives every student a chance to succeed. Yet Betsy DeVos misses the importance of public schools to working families. When it came to protecting students with disabilities, Mrs. DeVos showed a lack of understanding for federal disability laws in education that ensure every child receives a high-quality education.
We need a Secretary of Education who will move public education forward and ensure all children are getting the best education possible.
As part of #ResistTrumpTuesdays, a national liberal Tea Party movement spearheaded by Indivisible and MoveOn.org, over 100 Washingtonians gathered outside of the federal building in Seattle on January 24th to urge Cantwell and Murray to block several of Trump's cabinet picks. Similar groups gathered outside of Senate offices in Vancouver, Spokane, and Everett. After the rallies, five-to-seven speakers met with Senate staffers to pass along their critiques.
At the Seattle action, Kay Kite, a teacher who's worked in public schools for twenty-five years, called DeVos's religious leanings and her qualifications into question, saying, "[DeVos] doesn't even know that the federal government funds education for the disabled."
Cantwell's spokesperson, Bryan Watt, told me that "hearing from constituents is an important part" of the Senator's decision-making process during these hearings, but that the Senator also considers the nominee's "record, the public hearing, and follow-up responses to critical questions."
Politico reports that the phone lines of Democratic Senators runneth over with calls opposing DeVos's conformation, "saying the opposition to DeVos is stronger than for any other Cabinet nominee."
Some anti-DeVosers have been leaving messages for Senate Republicans, too, which apparently makes those representatives a little upset. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, says he "wants to hear from every one of his constituents, and out-of-state callers are doing a disservice to our folks who are trying to reach the office."
One of the narratives circulating around liberal Tea Partiers is that you really only have influence over the elected officials who represent you. But in bright blue states, that influence clearly only goes so far. To those who want to fight semi-dirty, forcing Republican staffers to wade through thousands of messages from out-of-state callers sounds like a serviceable form of micro-resistance.