During a confirmation hearing Tuesday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) asked Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary about the president-elect’s infamous boasts on the “Access Hollywood” tapes.
In questioning Betsy DeVos, Murray wanted to know whether Trump’s descriptions of kissing and groping women without their consent ― and the allegations subsequently made about him by a host of women ― amounted to sexual assault.
“I take accusations of this type of behavior very seriously,” Murray said. “If this behavior ― kissing and touching women and girls without their consent ― happened in a school, would you consider it a sexual assault?”
DeVos gave the only reasonable answer.
In the “Access Hollywood” tape that surfaced a month before the presidential election, Trump says that he doesn’t need a woman’s consent before he kisses her. “I just start kissing them,” he said. He also says he likes to grab women “by the pussy.” Trump, along with many of his supporters and Republican politicians, dismissed the remarks as “locker room banter.”
Sexual assault figured prominently in DeVos’ hearing. Under President Barack Obama, the Education Department has launched dozens of investigations into how college campuses have handled sexual assault allegations. The Obama administration views such attacks as a federal civil rights issue, giving the Education Department the leeway to pressure campuses for reforms.
Backers of those policies are now wondering if the Trump administration would roll them back once they assume power. Democrats invited victims of sexual assault to the hearing in order to draw attention to the issue.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) asked DeVos to promise to uphold Obama’s policies on that front, but DeVos said it would be “premature” to do so. When Murray also asked DeVos about whether she’d maintain those reforms, DeVos dodged the question again.
“If confirmed, I commit that I will be looking very closely at how this has been regulated and handled, with great sensitivity to those who are victims and considering perpetrators as well,” she said.