The time it’s taking to complete the ethics check related to Betsy DeVos’ vast financial holdings contributed to Republican leaders’ decision to delay her Senate confirmation hearing, sources tell POLITICO.
The Office of Government Ethics’ work is still very preliminary, and Republican leadership was concerned that the paperwork review wasn’t complete, sources briefed on the decision told POLITICO.
DeVos is a Michigan billionaire and education activist who is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to be Education secretary. Democrats, including Sen. Patty Murray, (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the HELP Committee handling her confirmation, have been calling for days for DeVos’ confirmation hearing to be delayed until the ethics check is complete.
Murray and HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander announced late Monday night that DeVos’ confirmation hearing — initially scheduled for Wednesday — was pushed back to Jan. 17, though they said the decision came “at the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule.” Alexander’s office said the committee is scheduled to vote on DeVos confirmation on Jan. 24.
When asked why the confirmation hearing was postponed, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell maintained Tuesday that party leaders have been working with the committees on their scheduling “to accommodate the ability of members to attend all their hearings.”
“The DeVos hearing is one of the hearings that are being moved to make the skeds a little easier for members,” said Don Stewart, the spokesman.
On Tuesday, Murray’s office released a letter from the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics that says it is “impossible to predict” how long it will take for a nominee to complete an ethics review — a response to questions from Murray about DeVos.
Walter M. Shaub Jr., the director of the ethics office, said in a letter dated Monday the process has an unknown timeline because it is “dependent on the nominee to provide needed information, respond to questions, and accept the terms of an ethics agreement.”
DeVos submitted her financial information to OGE on Dec. 12, according to the Trump transition team. She is still in discussions to finalize the paperwork and sign an agreement addressing possible conflicts of interest, according to Ed Patru, the spokesman for a group formed to back her nomination.
The ethics office has also raised concerns about holding confirmation hearings for any nominee before the ethics review is complete.
Shaub wrote in his letter to Murray that requiring a completed ethics review before a hearing “invariably provides the necessary leverage to secure the cooperation and legal compliance from nominees,” adding that such “leverage is greatly diminished if a hearing is held prior to OGE’s preclearance and subsequent certification.”
A spokesman for Murray said she’s hopeful the additional time will allow DeVos to “complete the required ethics paperwork and in time for the Office of Government Ethics to submit it to the HELP Committee before her hearing.”
DeVos — who has long pushed for school choice measures such as private school vouchers and charter schools — is a top target of Democrats, in part because she’s a longtime GOP donor, but also because of her ties to groups opposing gay rights, and her anti-organized labor efforts. But it’s unlikely that Democrats will be able to thwart her nomination.
Matt Frendewey, a spokesman for American Federation for Children, which was previously chaired by DeVos, said moving the hearing was “simply part of the process.”
“Betsy turned in her paperwork to the Office Government Ethics (OGE) nearly a month ago, she turned in her paperwork to the Senate a day early. She’s ready to have a conversation about making education better any day of the week, whether it is tomorrow or this coming Tuesday,” Frendewey said.
Michael Stratford and Caitlin Emma contributed to this report.