WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says she's not going anywhere with Democrats taking control of the U.S. House in January, despite rumors to the contrary.
But if she stays, her life is almost certainly going to get a whole lot tougher.
On Monday, in response to a question about rumors circulating that DeVos, a Michigan billionaire, Republican backer and former school-choice advocate in the state, might be looking at stepping down, her press secretary, Liz Hill, knocked down the suggestions.
"The rumors are just that…rumors," Hill wrote in an email to the Free Press. "The Secretary has no plans of stepping down."
There is almost universal agreement, however, that DeVos — who has made only rare appearances on Capitol Hill to testify with Republicans in charge of both chambers of Congress — is going to be asked a lot more questions in the future.
It also means that departmental policies on issues such as civil rights, school choice, sexual assault investigations, transgender students' access to bathrooms and student loan repayment are all going to come under close scrutiny.
And if a Democratic-led U.S. House doesn't have the power to force the Senate to enact changes, it can — and likely will — still try to force that chamber's hand on votes and repeatedly call DeVos before key committees to question her.
Educators' unions are already looking forward to the change: A day after the midterm elections last week, the National Education Association put out a statement saying the shift "will serve as an important check on President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos." And the publication Education Week noted that a Democratic takeover of the House Committee on Education and Workforce means "increased oversight of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos."
DeVos — a philanthropist and state party official who had no education background when Trump nominated her — has been controversial in the office since Day One. She was confirmed in February 2017 on a tie-breaking vote in the Senate by Vice President Mike Pence.
Besides pushing school choice proposals, she has criticized efforts to provide additional funding to under-performing schools; proposed rules that would decrease the number of investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and assault, and said she wouldn't stand in the way of school districts using federal funds to purchase firearms for protection.
She was also roundly criticized for flubbing a question on CBS's "60 Minutes" when she said she had no idea whether Michigan's schools were better or worse off because of her school choice efforts. During her confirmation hearing, she was also drubbed for seeming to not know details about some programs and for suggesting —jokingly — that some districts might need access for firearms to protect them from grizzly bears.
She has been a focal point of anger against the Trump administration since taking office, as well, and for her security detail, which is expected to cost some $8 million in the next year.
DeVos, however, has earned praised also — including from those who believe that changes in sexual assault investigation policies will provide more of a balance to the rights of the accused.
Writing for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education research organization in Washington, President Michael Petrilli said DeVos overcame a bumpy start and "grew into the role as secretary." The question is whether she decides to stay and face a Democratic House certain to hold her to a different standard.
"The question facing Secretary DeVos is whether to participate in these show trials," he wrote last week. "She has another option ... She can choose to step down and gracefully exit a thankless, no-win scene."
Petrilli went on to say she should do so, arguing it will "take some wind" out of Democrats' attacks and deny teachers unions a talking point headed into the next Congress and the 2020 election.
Contact Todd Spangler at 703-854-8947 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @tsspangler.