Betsy DeVos: Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 were ‘line in the sand’ that led to resignation
Former Education secretary, in an exclusive interview, spoke for the first time publicly about her decision to resign the day after the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says she watched with horror as the events of Jan. 6, 2021, unfolded at the nation’s Capitol. She could no longer stand by the president, whom she believed was culpable in the violence that day through his actions – and inaction.
And so the next day she submitted her resignation letter to then-President Donald Trump. In an exclusive interview ahead of the release of her upcoming book, the Michigan billionaire and major Republican Party donor told me she hasn’t had any contact with Trump since.
This is the first time DeVos has spoken publicly about what led to her decision to resign, and what transpired in the final weeks of the presidency. She blames Trump’s inability to accept the results of the 2020 election for blocking what she saw as her best chance to get a major piece of her school choice agenda through Congress.
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In "Hostages No More: The Fight for Education Freedom and the Future of the American Child," DeVos writes: “To me, there was a line in the sand. It wasn’t about the election results. It was about the values and image of the United States. It was about public service rising above self. The president had lost sight of that.”
'It was not defensible in any way'
Many Americans will revisit Jan. 6 this week, with the U.S. House select committee investigating the riot scheduled to hold its first public hearing Thursday during prime time.
DeVos was one of the first prominent members of the Trump administration to resign after the riot. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced her resignation just hours before DeVos.
While DeVos stops short of putting blame directly on Trump for instigating the storming of the Capitol, she thinks the president could have – and should have – done much more to stop the mob.
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“I went to Washington to do a job on behalf of the American people and particularly for students, and a lot of what happened after the (2020) election sort of put roadblocks in the way of doing any major additional work, so I really felt that everything I could accomplish in office had been accomplished based on that reality and that dynamic,” DeVos told me. “And then when I saw what was happening on Jan. 6 and didn’t see the president step in and do what he could have done to turn it back or slow it down or really address the situation, it was just obvious to me that I couldn’t continue.
“I was thinking about the kids I was there to represent, and what they are seeing and what they are taking away from this – it was not defensible in any way.”
Invoking 25th Amendment?
DeVos says she was shocked when Trump turned on his loyal Vice President Mike Pence, who was committed to his duty of certifying the presidential election.
This was a major reason that before resigning, DeVos first wanted to know whether invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump was a viable option. On Jan. 7, she spoke with other Cabinet members to gauge their thoughts – and she also talked to Pence, who would have to be on board to remove the president.
“I spoke with the vice president and just let him know I was there to do whatever he wanted and needed me to do or help with, and he made it very clear that he was not going to go in that direction or that path,” DeVos says. “I spoke with colleagues. I wanted to get a better understanding of the law itself and see if it was applicable in this case. There were more than a few people who had those conversations internally.”
Once she understood removing the president was pretty much impossible, DeVos resigned later that day.
Staying the course for students
Until everything culminated that Jan. 6, DeVos had thought staying the course was worth it, even in light of the president’s increasingly erratic behavior after the election. Anyone who knows DeVos understands that advocating for school choice is what she’s most passionate about, and she didn’t want to leave office until she had done everything in her power to help create a federal tax credit program to encourage states to fashion scholarships – and more choice – for students.
DeVos says that toward the end of 2020, there had been a growing bipartisan consensus in Congress around school choice given the pandemic's negative effects on schools. And she thought there was a good chance that the School Choice Now proposal would be attached to the second major COVID-19 relief bill.
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It soon became clear, however, that she had lost Trump’s support and attention in light of his obsession with the election results.
“It was increasingly obvious the president’s mind was elsewhere,” DeVos says. “Most of the staff in the White House was trying to respond and react and deal with that, and it became more and more difficult to do anything positive or advance anything positive. I went there to serve the American people, and I felt I had to see this through and do everything I could to ensure that my job was done to the best of my ability. But it became increasingly untenable. And obviously the events of Jan. 6 put an exclamation point on that.”
Despite the chaos at the end, DeVos says she has no regrets about taking the job. And even if she wasn’t able to get the school choice legislation through Congress, she points to other accomplishments during her tenure and believes she started a conversation that’s still resonating around the country.
“I went there to serve kids, I went there to serve the American people – not an individual,” she says.