Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will resign following Wednesday’s riot in the U.S. Capitol, her spokesperson confirmed.
In a sharply worded letter, DeVos called President Donald Trump’s recent rhetoric fanning the flames of his supporters an “inflection point” and laid blame directly at the president’s feet for sparking the unprecedented assault on the halls of Congress.
“We should be highlighting and celebrating your Administration’s many accomplishments on behalf of the American people,” DeVos wrote in her letter to the president. “Instead, we are left to clean up the mess caused by violent protestors overrunning the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people’s business.”
“That behavior was unconscionable for our country,” she added. “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.”
Her last day will be Friday.
DeVos went on to say children were watching the footage from the Capitol and that she believed “we each have a moral obligation to exercise good judgment and model the behavior we hope they would emulate.”
“Holding this position has been the honor of a lifetime, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to serve America and her students,” she concluded.
DeVos is the latest member of Trump’s Cabinet to announce their resignation. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said she will resign next week following the insurrection.
“Yesterday, our country experienced a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the President stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed,” Chao said in a statement addressed to her colleagues. “As I’m sure is the case with many of you, it has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”
Other White House aides have announced their resignations over the past two days. Stephanie Grisham, the chief of staff to Melania Trump and a former White House press secretary, said she would resign on Wednesday. White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews said she would leave her post. Mick Mulvaney, a former White House chief of staff and now a special envoy to Northern Ireland, also is resigning.
DeVos was one of Trump’s longest-serving Cabinet secretaries after barely eking out a confirmation in February 2017. After two Republican senators voted against her, Vice President Mike Pence had to provide an unprecedented tie-breaking vote to help her get the job.
Still, despite becoming one of the administration’s most polarizing and universally loathed members, the billionaire weathered previous waves of resignations and firings, standing by Trump through impeachment and acting as a loyal foot soldier in enacting his agenda.
After Wednesday’s riot, DeVos put out a statement expressing concern for what had occurred, though she stopped short of directly criticizing Trump. The statement cited the need to set a better example for America’s children, a sentiment echoed in her resignation letter.
DeVos, who spent her career fighting for school choice, first supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and then Sen. Marco Rubio during the 2016 Republican presidential primary. She spent her tenure as education secretary pushing her signature issue: to expand voucher programs, which help provide scholarships for children to attend private schools.
Her critics often painted her as a villain hellbent on privatizing public education. Announcing plans to “fire” her became popular tropes for Democrats on the presidential campaign trail.
Despite repeated efforts, DeVos failed to create a federal private school choice program and made little meaningful progress in helping to expand such efforts on a nationwide level. Even throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, DeVos advocating for sending federal dollars directly to families rather than to public schools. She also pushed for the immediate reopening of in-person classrooms while abdicating responsibility for some of the efforts that might help schools do so safely. In October, DeVos said it was not her department’s job to collect data on coronavirus infection rates in school, though education leaders had been asking for that.
Some of DeVos’s most significant moves involved helping to roll back civil rights protections for students.
In November, HuffPost first reported that, under her watch, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights had been failing to address complaints of coronavirus-related discrimination.
She also oversaw the rescission of several pieces of Obama-era guidance designed to protect vulnerable students. Soon after taking office, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice scrapped guidance that directed schools to let transgender students use the facilities that corresponded with their gender identity. She went on to rescind guidance designed to protect students of color from discriminatory disciplinary processes and around how colleges could consider race in admissions. Perhaps most significantly, she led the department in crafting new Title IX rules governing how schools and campuses handle sexual harassment and assault complaints in ways that bolstered the rights of the accused and have been widely condemned by civil rights groups.
DeVos also worked to protect predatory for-profit colleges and against students who were defrauded by these institutions.
After DeVos’s resignation was announced Thursday, a number of public education groups that she had sparred with over the years reacted to the news, expressing contempt for her and denigrating her tenure.
“Good riddance,” said a simple two-word statement from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
“Resigning 13 days before the end of this administration does nothing to erase the harm Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has done to this country’s students, their families and educators. She has failed our students yet again when they needed her most. Her complicity, cowardice, and complete incompetence will be her legacy,” said a statement from Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union.
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