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Rep. Maxine Waters: DeVos is a Billionaire Wannabe Teacher Who Doesn’t Care About Public Education

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The Senate is scheduled to hold a full vote today on the confirmation of Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary, billionaire Betsy DeVos. DeVos is perhaps Trump’s most contested pick among a group of controversial Cabinet nominees. DeVos is a longtime backer of charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools. She and her husband have also invested in a student debt collection agency that does business with the Education Department. On Monday, Senate Democrats took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to begin a 24-hour protest opposing DeVos. Last week, two Republican lawmakers, Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, announced plans to vote against DeVos, leaving Senate Republicans one vote short of confirming her. If the Senate vote is 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence would then cast the deciding vote—an event that has never happened to any other presidential nominee in history. We speak to Democratic Congressmember Maxine Waters of California.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Senate is scheduled to hold a full vote today on the confirmation of Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary, billionaire Betsy DeVos. DeVos is perhaps Trump’s most contested pick among a group of controversial Cabinet nominees. DeVos is a longtime backer of charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools. She and her husband have also invested in a student debt collection agency that does business with the Education Department. On Monday, Senate Democrats took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to begin a 24-hour protest opposing her appointment. This is Michigan Senate Democrat Debbie Stabenow.

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW: You know, Betsy DeVos’s nomination is very personal to many people who live in Michigan, because Betsy DeVos is from Michigan. And her vision of education and her actions have, unfortunately, played a major role in undermining our public schools. Families all across our state can tell the story of her work with Michigan schools firsthand, because they’ve seen it firsthand. They’ve lived it firsthand. And they all say the same thing—Democrats, Republicans, independents, people who live in cities that are big and small cities, and parents and teachers and principals and community leaders from across the state. Overwhelmingly, they’ve told me that Betsy DeVos should not be our next secretary of education.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Last week, two Republican lawmakers—Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—announced plans to vote against DeVos, leaving Senate Republicans one vote short of confirming her. If the Senate vote is 50 to 50, Vice President Mike Pence would then cast the deciding vote—an event that has never happened to any other presidential nominee in history.

AMY GOODMAN: If only one more Republican senator decides to vote against her, Betsy DeVos’s confirmation will be rejected.

For more on DeVos and other nominees in the Trump Cabinet, as well as a call for impeachment, we’re joined by Congressmember Maxine Waters of Los Angeles.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Congressmember Waters. Can you start off by talking about what’s happening with Betsy DeVos and why you are opposed to her?

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Yes, certainly. I’m delighted to be here with you this morning.

I started talking about Betsy DeVos when I was at the Women’s March. I identified three people, three of his nominees—one was Jeff Sessions, one was Betsy DeVos, and the other was Mnuchin—because they stood out as unqualified, unfit, and should not be heading these important agencies of government. Betsy DeVos has no experience, no background. You know, she, of course, never attended public school herself. Her children never attended public school. She’s never served on a school board, never taught. She’s never done anything, except make big donations to Trump and others.

So this billionaire wannabe teacher is now in the position where there’s a big fight going on in the Senate. And it looks as if it’s a 50-50 kind of a—it’s a split. And the split—the tie, rather, would have to be broken by the vice president. And so, unless the Democrats can get a third vote, she may end up being the secretary of education, which would be a shame. She does not care about public education. She’s into charter schools and privatization of education. And all around this country, educators are alarmed. You know, we have parents who are against this nomination and against her becoming the education secretary. I just hope that they can get a third Republican to join with the Democrats to stop her from becoming the education secretary.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Congresswoman Waters, in her hearings, she really showed a remarkable lack of understanding of some of the basic issues in education. Even in the Detroit Free Press, the main newspaper in Michigan, claimed that she was not qualified for the job and she was actually more a lobbyist. But I wanted to go to Senator Elizabeth Warren speaking on Monday on the floor to oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos, where she talked about what happened at her confirmation hearing.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: During her confirmation hearing, I gave her the opportunity to show that she is at least serious about standing up for students. I asked her basic, straightforward questions about her commitment to protecting students and taxpayers from fraud by these shady for-profit colleges. Her response was shocking. She refused to commit to use the department’s many tools and resources to keep students from getting cheated when fraudulent colleges break the law. And in her responses to my written questions, she even refused to commit to doing what the law requires, by canceling the loans of students who have been cheated by lawbreaking colleges. An education secretary who is unwilling to cut off federal aid to colleges that break the law and cheat students would be a disaster for both students and for taxpayers.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Senator Elizabeth Warren. Congresswoman Waters, do you have any expectation or hope that this nomination can be derailed with one more Republican vote?

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Well, I certainly hope so. And I appreciate those questions that were asked by Senator Warren. Both of us have worked very hard to try and get rid of these private post-secondary schools that are ripping off the taxpayers and the students. We were very successful in the work that we did with Corinthian, but there are many more out there, for far too long have been receiving taxpayer money and not providing any real education or career opportunities for these students who sign up for these schools. Many of them are recruited from welfare lines, in housing projects. They target the poorest of students. And they get them to sign on the dotted line to get the student loans. They take that money, and many of them do nothing. And when these students end up coming out of these schools, they can’t get jobs, they can’t pay back the loans, and they are basically put in a very difficult situation for many, many years, not being able to rent or live in public housing, other kinds of things that they’re prohibited from doing, because they have not been able to pay the loans back.

So, yes, she’s a disaster. I am so hopeful that they can get this third vote. I know that there are Republicans there who know that she’s not qualified. Some of them may be a bit intimidated by the president and don’t want to cross him at this point. But if they care about the students, if they really care about education, they will do that. They will step up to the plate, and they will join with the other two Republicans and the Democrats and deny her this confirmation.

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