What would happen if a cabinet secretary walked out during a congressional hearing?

A friend of mine sent me a YouTube video of U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) berating Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

He fairly characterized it as “full frontal Madame Mao.” It was hard to watch all eight minutes; I kept looking ahead for a response from DeVos, but in eight minutes the Secretary of Education never got a word in to discuss, well, education policy. It is an old video (from June of 2017) but I think it is typical of what passes for a congressional hearing these days.

My friend went on to note that Senator Murray often uses her position to denigrate and bully a witness, for example, by reminding the secretary of how much she opposed her appointment (but making it personal, not about ideas) and using phrases over and over again such as “extreme anti-public-school agenda” and “unpopular and unsupported agenda.” Says who?

Then Murray went on to marvel at how many people called the switchboard or sent emails opposing DeVos, never acknowledging that this response was robo-generated by the well-oiled teachers’ union that funds Senator Murray and her party, using teachers’ union dues to attack any new ideas that might help students and teachers succeed in our K-12 schools.

The senior senator from Washington attacked a cabinet-level secretary rather than engaging on the merits of the issue at hand (which I will get to in a moment).

And more often than not, at least based on my limited sampling of these hearings, Secretary DeVos sits quietly through these attacks, politely answering questions, and in a recent interview (this time with Leslie Stahl, who is apparently an expert on K-12 education and also a DeVos critic)–DeVos even agreed that she would benefit from some site visits to failing schools. (That interview had the media and education lobby absolutely howling despite the fact that when DeVos tried to visit one of those failing schools in D.C. early in her tenure she was refused entry to the school and threatened with bodily harm by protesters yelling “Shame, shame, shame!” She had to be tucked into a car by a body guard.)

What are the “extreme” ideas that the teachers’ union brings out the troops, led by the likes of Sen. Murray, to attack? What are they so opposed to?

DeVos has (finally) reversed an Obama-era policy that essentially forces K-12 schools to adopt a quota on the discipline of minority children. It is called “restorative justice” and was supposed to stop what supporters called the “school to prison pipeline.” Instead it has led to teachers being assaulted and leaving the profession in droves, and students being victimized by adults who refuse to be the adults.

What does that mean? As WSJ Columnist Jason Riley put it:

Put another way, the administration was demanding racial parity in school discipline, regardless of who was being disruptive, which is as silly as demanding racial parity in police arrests, regardless of who’s committing crimes.

The result is that more schools have been disciplining fewer students in order to achieve racial balance in suspension rates and stay out of trouble with the federal government. Civil-rights lawsuits are embarrassing—to be accused of racial discrimination is often tantamount to being found guilty of it. They’re also expensive to fight, and the federal government has far more resources than any school district. The easier course for schools is to pretend that students from different racial and ethnic groups misbehave at similar rates. School safety becomes secondary.

I will write much more about this later, but the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, anticipated that the Trump administration would end this terrible policy; it preemptively issued letters to 43 K-12 schools in Minnesota threatening legal action and sanctions if the schools did not comply with a state-level policy demanding racial quotas on discipline. These Minnesota schools were found guilty without a trial. My colleague, Katherine Kersten, wrote about this in great detail in the latest Thinking Minnesota (see page 28).

While DeVos has freed states that want to end this Obama-era policy, Minnesota students and teachers will continue to suffer the increased chaos and violence that follows when children are not held accountable for their actions. The list of 43 Minnesota schools threatened by the Dayton administration, and presumably the incoming Walz administration, are listed here. Where do your children or grandchildren attend school? 

What would happen if Betsy DeVos tool off the gloves?

Yet it is hard to argue with her success. I wanted faster action on these bad ideas from the Obama era (restorative justice but also the prosecution of college students in extra-legal criminal proceedings following accusations of sexual assault—she got that done, too) but DeVos is still there and getting things done, with grace and patience. How many Trump cabinet secretaries and staff are long gone? It is just hard to watch her get beat up. I want her to fight back, to defend her agenda forcefully. Most Americans, especially teachers and minority parents, agree with her!

OK, here is another idea: what would happen if DeVos, a confirmed cabinet secretary of the Executive Branch, which is co-equal with the Senate, walked out of a hearing, saying, “Senator Murray, let me know when you are done with your grandstanding rant. I will be happy to return to discuss policy.” And then exit. Wouldn’t we all cheer?

If you can stand it, you can watch the video of Senator Patty Murray’s best impression of a communist apparatchik here:  https://youtu.be/TF2me2TCEv0