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Sen. Patty Murray maintains pressure on Betsy DeVos, other Trump nominees, defends NAFTA

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 25, 2017, 9:20 a.m.

Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos greets Sen. Patty Murray as Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., watch on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In an interview Tuesday, Murray said she remains concerned about DeVos’s policy positions and finances ahead of a planned confirmation vote. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)
Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos greets Sen. Patty Murray as Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., watch on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In an interview Tuesday, Murray said she remains concerned about DeVos’s policy positions and finances ahead of a planned confirmation vote. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)

Washington’s senior U.S. Senator on Tuesday vowed to keep up pressure on the cabinet appointments of President Donald Trump.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said that Trump’s nominees to cabinet posts presented “complex financial and legal issues” that dwarfed those of previous administrations, in addition to her concerns about their policies.

“I am frustrated that this has been rushed through,” Murray said of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to head the Education Department. Murray, the Democrats’ ranking member on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has emerged as a staunch opponent of Trump’s nominee, a businesswoman who has advocated for expanded voucher programs as an alternative to public schools.

Murray, a former preschool teacher, said in a phone interview from Capitol Hill that DeVos’ policy positions would be bad for Washington students and families.

“I have real questions about that,” Murray said of the voucher position, pointing out that Washington state already is operating with inadequate funding for public education, according to a state Supreme Court decision. “And in our rural communities, there’s no private schools. Where are you going to go? It’s a whole gamut of issues.”

Similar criticism from the senator was also directed at Tom Price, the Republican congressman picked by Trump to head the Department of Health and Human Services, and Andrew Puzder, the Carl’s Jr. exec who would lead the Labor Department. Price faced questions from the Senate’s Finance Committee on Capitol Hill on Tuesday; Murray said she expected to review Puzder’s application soon, with a potential hearing in February.

Murray, who was re-elected to a fifth term in the U.S. Senate in November, said she continued to have ethical concerns about the finances of DeVos and Price.

The senator also pushed back on Trump’s plans to review the North American Free Trade Agreement, a campaign pledge that was reaffirmed Monday when the president backed the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.

“Whatever he does from here, is really important to our workers,” Murray said. “I don’t have any idea what kind of deal he’s going to come forward with.”

Pressed on whether she supported Trump’s stated intention to reopen NAFTA, a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico that has been in effect since 1994, Murray again said she wasn’t clear on the president’s intentions.

“I’ve got to tell you, I have no idea what Trump is talking about in terms of re-opening NAFTA,” Murray said. “There are, clearly, issues over the decades now over what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. But for a number of products from Washington state, whether it’s potatoes or apples, or a number of products, it has been very beneficial, and I don’t want to see that taken away.”

White House officials said this weekend that Trump would be meeting with leaders of Mexico and Canada to renegotiate the treaty. On the campaign trail, he called NAFTA “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere, but certainly ever signed in this country” in a debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in September.

Murray also said she was “stunned” and “energized” by the number of people who marched in Spokane and across the country Saturday in protest of the Trump campaign rhetoric. Murray participated in the women’s march in Washington, D.C.

“You have to ask why, and I think a lot of people feel they were either put down in the election because of who they were, or what they looked like, and if they were a woman, or if they’re disabled,” Murray said. “And they came out Saturday and said I’m a real person, and I’m watching, and I care.”

Murray said she hoped the enthusiasm shown during the protests would translate into younger people running for public office.

Contact the writer: (509) 459-5429

kiph@spokesman.com


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