During an appearance on CNN's New Day Tuesday morning, Former Director for the Office of Government Ethics and Trump critic Walter Shaub suggested that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos lacks the proper expertise required to run the Department of Education, arguing that her expertise "seems to be in being a rich person who didn't attend public schools that she's overseeing." Shaub also said that the appointment of DeVos, as well as other outsiders to cabinet positions, proves that the Trump Administration has "declared war on expertise and denigrated experts."
Guest co-host Erica Hill initially asked Shaub if the White House could have helped Secretary DeVos prepare better for an appearance on 60 Minutes on Sunday, which received negative reviews. Shaub responded by describing her appearance on the CBS program as “a startingly bad interview”, adding “if you had seen her confirmation hearing, that didn’t go a whole lot better.”
While Shaub stressed his disapproval of DeVos, he implied that many additional members of the Trump administration also lacked the necessary qualifications to serve in their posts: “This administration seems to have, in many ways, declared war on expertise and denigrated experts, including career civil servants, calling them ‘The Deep State’ because...they don’t trust them and yet, what it really reflects, I think, is a suspicion of people who are expert and Betsy DeVos’s primary expertise seems to be in being a rich person who didn’t attend public schools that she’s overseeing and didn’t send her kids to public schools.” Shaub added that the only reason the President hired her is because she donated to his campaign.
In addition to the Education Department head's performance on 60 Minutes, Shaub was equally critical of DeVos for her “pre-conceived idea” of school choice: “So it really is disturbing because it’s...just sort of an entire trend of not focusing on the subject matter and coming in with one pre-conceived idea that in her case, that idea happens to be, well, everybody should have more school choice. Well, it’s such a facile understanding.”
Shaub went on to say that he had no problem with her support for school choice but argued that she should “come armed with statistics and talking points that can justify that viewpoint.” As Hill introduced Shaub, she did reference some statistics highlighted by DeVos on her Twitter page showing that Detroit students who attend charter schools performed twice as well as their counterparts in public schools on standardized testing.
After Shaub finished bashing DeVos, Hill then turned to some of the other members of President Trump’s cabinet, who have come under scrutiny for inappropriate use of taxpayer money. Shaub predicted “where it goes from here is downhill and it gets worse. And that’s because of the tone setting from the top. You know, there was a report that the White House scolded these individuals, as you said. Well, I’m not sure the White House is in any position to scold anyone, least of all their own cabinet who are following the President’s example.”
Shaub expressed concern that supporters of the Trump administration assume that “anyone who’s got concerns about ethics is just carrying partisan water.” While not every ethics watchdog carries partisan water, Shaub certainly does. He has donated to President Obama and uses his Twitter page as a platform to bash President Trump. No wonder CNN decided to make him a contributor.
CNN New Day
ERICA HILL: Let’s discuss now with CNN Contributor Walter Shaub, the former Director for the Office of Government Ethics. It was a tough one to watch in all honesty and then she was put out again for more interviews yesterday and the White House we’re told was unhappy with her performance. Betsy DeVos tweeting yesterday in her view “Missing from the 60 Minutes interview” she’s referencing there “students at Charter Schools in Detroit are doing two times better than their peers. The reforms are helping but there’s so much more to do. We must help all students be better prepared for strong futures.” Could this Administration, could the White House have helped Secretary DeVos be better prepared for this interview?
WALTER SHAUB: Well, certainly her press people could have. This was kind of a startlingly bad interview but if you had seen her confirmation hearing, that didn’t go a whole lot better. I think, you know I’ve worked with nominees for years and years. And I think it really, my experiences have been consistent with the old saying that personnel is policy. And this administration seems to have, in many ways, declared war on expertise and denigrated experts, including career civil servants, calling them “The Deep State” because they, they don’t trust them and yet, what it really reflects, I think, is a suspicion of people who are expert and Betsy DeVos’s primary expertise seems to be in being a rich person who didn’t attend public schools that she’s overseeing and didn’t send her kids to public schools. So I think when your criteria for hiring somebody is that they were a major campaign donor instead of they are a noted figure in a field, it shouldn’t be surprising when you have a result like this. And her comments about one of the things she said is she couldn’t comment on trends or statistics because each student is an individual. Well, that is an anti-intellectual idea coming from the Head of the Department of Education because it’s almost like she’s saying “You can’t study education.” You can’t study whether it’s possible to make school systems in the aggregate better.
HILL: Does it surprise you though? I mean, you reference her confirmation hearings but we’re at the point now where she’s been on the job long enough. Does it, how much does it surprise you that we’re at a point where she is, these are the talking points that she’s putting out there and this is her familiarity with the subject matter for the department that she oversees?
SHAUB: Well, you know, there’s a good government group called American Oversight that filed a bunch of Freedom of Information Act requests and one of the things they found is she doesn’t show up to work a whole lot. This is an individual who frequently leaves work on a Thursday and comes back on a Tuesday and so there’s...
HILL: Is she working, and I mean this very seriously, could she be working from home on those Fridays or those Mondays wherever she may be?
SHAUB: It’s entirely possible but for the most part, cabinet secretaries should be meeting with people. And they should be going out to view the things they’re overseeing. And you heard her on TV saying she hasn’t focused on looking at the schools that need the most help. So it really is disturbing because it’s, it’s just sort of an entire trend of not focusing on the subject matter and coming in with one pre-conceived idea that in her case, that idea happens to be, well, everybody should have more school choice. Well, it’s such a facile understanding. I mean, if you believe that policy, fine. But come armed with statistics and talking points that can justify that viewpoint.
HILL: She, of course, is not the only cabinet member who is under scrutiny. I mean, we have four just recently that we can put on the screen and talk about here in terms of ethics concerns and being scolded.
HILL: Where does all of that go from here, though? Yes, we know this has happened. Yes, they’ve been summoned, they’ve been scolded but does anything come out of that?
SHAUB: Well, I’m going to go ahead and call this one right now. Where it goes from here is downhill and it gets worse. And that’s because of the tone setting from the top. You know, there was a report that the White House scolded these individuals, as you said. Well, I’m not sure the White House is in any position to scold anyone, least of all their own cabinet who are following the President’s example. You’ve got, last week, the office of Special Counsel, which is not related to Robert Mueller. That’s a separate agency, issued findings on complaints that I and my group filed saying that Kellyanne Conway had violated the Hatch Act twice. And that’s her third ethics violation because there was another one last year when she told America go buy Ivanka’s stuff. And the White House thumbed its nose at OSC and said we’re not going to do anything about it. We don’t agree with you. That’s really shocking because OSC is headed by a recent Trump appointee, Henry Kerner, who they said good things about when they appointed and he really did something brave taking a stand and making a finding that she did something but they did nothing about it. Then at the cabinet level, you’ve got David Shulkin, the head of VA, deceiving an ethics official when he got some tickets to Wimbledon and told the ethics official the woman who gave it to me was a friend of my wife’s. Well, when investigators went and talked to her, she didn’t even know the wife’s name. So when the White House refuses to take action against individuals like this, the message they’re sending is “none of this matters.”
HILL: Does it matter? I mean, is your sense that it matters to the American people?
SHAUB: That’s the really depressing thing as an ethics official because this should be sending off red alarms to people but I think we’re in such a hyper-polarized society that you’ve got supporters of the Administration who assume that anyone who’s got concerns about ethics is just carrying partisan water. And the truth is anything but that. These are objectively concerning matters. And all you have to do is imagine the other candidate had won the election. This Congress would be holding hearings right now over some of this stuff.
HILL: And does the fact that often times, we’re talking about, or more often than not, we’re also talking about taxpayer money being used to finance any of that, does that break through the noise? Or we’re at the same point with that as well?
SHAUB: It should and I hope it eventually will. I mean, I mentioned David Shulkin getting those Wimbledon tickets. He spent $122,000 on that trip to Europe with he and his wife and you’ve got Ben Carson trying to spend $31,000 on a dinette set so it’s starting to add up. Although it all pales in comparison to the cost of the President’s trips to his properties. So who knows?