Sen. Bernie Sanders is nothing if not consistent.
On Tuesday at a confirmation hearing, Sanders got a chance to question Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s choice for education secretary. DeVos is a billionaire who, along with her family, has donated $200 million to the Republican Party and conservative causes, according to Mother Jones.
Sanders was blunt: “Do you think that if your family had not made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to the Republican Party that you would be sitting here today?” he asked.
DeVos paused. “I do think there would be that possibility,” she said. “I have been working hard to be a voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children.”
DeVos’s family has given $2.7 million to Republican candidates in the 2016 presidential cycle alone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. As the Washington Post has explained, those donations look crucial to DeVos’s selection as education secretary — especially since she has never taught in a school environment, never attended a public school, and never sent her own children to a public school.
That’s a key point for Sanders, who during the presidential campaign vowed to get money and special interests out of politics and decried the “millionaires and billionaires” who control America’s political system.
DeVos’s defenders point out that the Michigan billionaire has spent years as a charter school advocate. She and her husband founded All Children Matter, a political action committee that supports school vouchers and private school scholarships, and she chairs the American Federation for Children. (Vox’s Libby Nelson has a long look at DeVos’s history in education reform here.)
But her hearing was an opportunity for Democrats to nonetheless point out that DeVos’s donations to the Republican Party at least have the appearance of factoring into her nomination as education secretary. And it’s a point Sanders wanted to press on Tuesday.
Here’s their exchange:
SANDERS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ms. DeVos, there is a growing fear in this country that we are moving toward what someone call an oligarchic form of society, where a small number of very wealthy billionaires control our economic and political life.
Would you be so kind as to tell us how much your family has contributed to the Republican Party over the years?
DEVOS: Senator, first of all, thank you for that question. I was pleased to meet you in your office last week. I wish you I could give you that number.
SANDERS: I have heard the number was $200 million. Does that sound in the ballpark?
DEVOS: Collectively over my entire family, that is possible.
SANDERS: My question is, and I don’t mean to be rude, but if you — do you think that if your family had not made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to the Republican Party that you would be sitting here today?
DEVOS: Senator, I do think there would be that possibility. I have worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years, to be a voice for parents and a voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children.