On February 22, 2017, US ed sec Betsy DeVos participated in an interview with journalist and Trump supporter, Kayleigh McEnany, for the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC).
Below is the full video followed by the full transcript of that interview (approx 9 minutes):
KM: Hi, Madam Secretary. It’s so great to be here with you.
BD: It’s great to be here with you, Kayleigh.
KM: now, let’s hear you guys if you could not be more excited about President Trump’s pick for secretary of education.
KM: You are a phenomenal pick, and you have spent 30 years working on these issues that are so important to children, protecting our future, protecting children of all races, of all identities, is crucial, and you are doing that, and you have a history of doing that, and I couldn’t be more excited for what you have planned for the Department.
BD: Thank you. It’s an honor.
KM: It is. And on that note, a lot of news has been made in the last 24 hours. President Trump rescinded the Obama guidelines on transgender, and [applause] and let’s be very clear why he did that. President Obama acted lawlessly. He promised us that he would use his pen and his phone to circumvent Congress. He did so repeatedly, including with these guidelines that reinterpreted federal statute. So, you put out a letter afterwards basically saying that you want to protect all children, all students, and I wanted to give you an opportunity to clarify what you meant and state what you meant in the ethos of that letter.
BD: Sure. Thank you, Kayleigh. Well, I think the statement spoke to it, for itself to a large extent. But let me just say that this issue was a very huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach to suggest a one-size-fits-all, federal government approach, top-down approach to issues that are best dealt with and solved at a personal level and a local level. And I have made clear from the moment I’ve been in this job that it’s our, it’s our job to protect students, and to do that to the fullest extent that we can, and also to provide students, parents’ and teachers with more flexibility around how education is delivered and how education is experienced, and to protect and preserve personal freedoms.
KM: Absolutely. And on that note, talking about the states and empowering the parents, we as conservatives in this room fully believe that the states are the appropriate, robust actors in the field of education. We want parents to be empowered, and part of that is empowering the states. So, with that said, what is the role of the federal government in the Department of Education vis-a-vis the states?
BD: Well, the Department of Education has, in the past several years, played a very integral role, I would argue, in many ways, too much of a role. With the new implementation of the new ESSA rules and law, we will see a lot of that power returned to the states and a lot of the flexibility given to the states to do what they can do best on behalf of students. I think that’s the right direction. I think the role of the federal government should be as light a touch as possible. And the areas in which the Department of Education has an important role are really around the needs of special needs students and around some of the civil rights issues that we’ve referenced earlier.
KM: Undoubtedly. And one of the things I love in just communicating with you and you’re staff: I really get a sense that you want to unify the country and make real change, and I think there’s even evidence of that. You know, we’re at this time where the country’s so divided and there’s so much anger and so much disrespect for one another that we need people to come together on behalf of children in particular, in your case. And the evidence I saw with being with your staff was on day two, you picked up the phone and you made a call to the teachers union, to the ATF, to Randi Weingarner (sp), and you did this despite the fact that the other teachers union, the NEA, put out a statement saying, we refuse to have a relationship with Secretary DeVos. So, you have one teachers union kind of increasing division and another one, because you reached out and extended a hand, reaching back and extending a hand back to you. And I believe you’re going on a tour of local schools with Randi.
BD: Well, I had a great conversation with Randi, and I think it’s imperative that we work together to find common ground. If students represent 100 percent of our future, we need to be focused around what’s right for them and doing what’s right for them. My conversation with Randi was great, and we’ve agreed to visit schools together. I will visit a school that she selects, a traditional public school, and she will visit a “choice” school. So, I look forward to that opportunity.
KM: That’s fantastic. And another place where this opposition and divisiveness was showcased was during your confirmation hearings. I myself was appalled at the way Senator Warren conducted herself and her line of questioning. But by contrast, you had Senator Scott who told a beautiful story of how you grew up and how your family mortgaged everything they had to start a business, and you painted a cinder block building and worked on an assembly line, and I think that’s such an empowering story and I wonder if you would share a little bit of that because you are the American dream, and a lot of students out there are trying to achieve the same thing that your family achieved.
BD: Sure. Yes, my dad was a great entrepreneur, and inventor, and I recall well as a young child, about 7 or 8 years old, painting the first building with him as he put up a cement block building with his first factory that was a result of mortgaging everything, and I worked through different summers, summer jobs, at the plant, third shift on the visor plant. So, he invented the lighted sun visor for automobiles. So, anybody who enjoys those, you can thank my dad for that great invention. [applause] I think it was at the urging of my mom; she’d like to be able to see to put lipstick on while they were going somewhere at night. But yes, it was a really important experience for me to grow up in a home where everybody pitched in and where my parents really modeled what it was to pursue the American dream in a really meaningful way.
KM: Absolutely. That’s a really great story. And turning another page, because I heard you ask the audience, “Who in here are college students?” and I heard a lot of cheers. Something that’s really important to students, conservative students in particular, you know, I’m a recent law school graduate, so I can empathize with the students out there, is academic freedom, because a lot of times on college campuses, you feel that you speak at your own risk if you speak conservative thought. You are oftentimes bullied by your peers, and sometimes even your professors and your educators. So, what advice would you have for students out there who desperately want to share conservatism but feel bullied in doing so?
BD: Well, I think my first advice would be, don’t shut up. Keep talking. Keep making your arguments. [applause] You can do so respectfully and with civility, but I think you need to do so with confidence. We need to have opposing viewpoints and differing ideas in an academian (sp) environment and in any environment where ideas are necessary to be exchanged. And I just urge and encourage all the college students here– any student– to continue to bring your ideas and your viewpoints. That’s the best way to learn, and it’s the best way for us all to learn how to get along together, as well.
KM: Absolutely. One of the things that I loved about you when you were President Trump’s pick is the work that you have done on behalf of children in poverty. You helped 400,000 families in poverty and assisted them and gave them school choice [applause] and assisted in their educational pursuit. That’s fantastic. [applause] And that’s an absolutely indispensable part of President Trump’s agenda ahead is helping students in inner cities. So, what is your plan at the Department of Education to help children in poverty?
BD: Well, we know that education is the great equalizer, and it’s the real moment of opportunity for every student. And so, the notion that I can choose where my children go to school because I can afford to pay for it but my fellow Americans can’t because they don’t have the same economic means, it’s just it’s not right. It’s unjust. [applause] And I share the president’s view that we must and can do better for all Americans to provide each of them with an equal opportunity for a great education. And we will be working together to advance that during his administration.
KM: That’s great. Well, this nation is so blessed to have you as secretary of education, and President Trump could not have made a better choice. I am just so thrilled for your vision and so excited.
BD: Thank you. Thank you.