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Murray, Dems question Trump pick for Education civil rights office

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 5, 2017

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., right, walks through the Capitol, Dec. 1, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP)
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., right, walks through the Capitol, Dec. 1, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP)
Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the civil rights office in the Education Department said Tuesday he’ll enforce the nation’s antidiscrimination policy in schools, including for LGBTQ students.

“All students, including all transgender students, deserve equal access to education and should not be harassed and bullied,” Kenneth L. Marcus told the Senate panel holding his confirmation hearing.

Asked by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., whether he’d lead the department’s civil rights office to investigate discrimination claims against such students, Marcus replied: “We would investigate if the complaint meets the standard for investigation.”

Marcus was grilled by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee over the Trump administration’s commitment to fighting discrimination. Trump has been criticized for proposing to slash the education budget. The administration also has moved to scrap guidance aimed at protecting transgender students, and it overhauled the guidelines for colleges and universities dealing with sexual assault allegations.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued interim guidelines in September that allow schools to use a higher standard of evidence for reviewing complaints than rules in President Barack Obama’s administration had allowed. The scrapped rules instructed universities to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard to assess and investigate charges. DeVos allows colleges to choose between that standard and “clear and convincing evidence.”

Under questioning from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Marcus said DeVos’ move was “appropriate.” Marcus would not commit to making such cases public or say at what point in an investigation he would consider releasing information. He said he needed more information on the question of transparency.

Marcus is president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, an independent, nonpartisan advocacy organization that aims “to advance the civil and human rights of the Jewish people,” according to the center’s website. The group engages in research, education and advocacy “to combat the resurgence of anti-Semitism on college and university campuses.”

If confirmed, Marcus would replace acting civil rights chief Candice Jackson, who had been criticized for suggesting that most accusations of sexual assault on campus stem from both students getting drunk and later having a messy breakup. She has apologized for the statement.

But Marcus has caused controversy of his own for his statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestine Legal, a Chicago-based group that advocates for Palestinian rights, says Marcus’ record “reflects a hostility towards civil rights, including making racially charged accusations and opposing affirmative action.”

But Hans von Spakovsky with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said in a statement that Trump “could not have picked a more qualified and experienced individual.”

He said Marcus’ record at the Education Department in George W. Bush’s administration, as executive director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and at the Brandeis Center demonstrates his “vigorous commitment to ensuring and protecting the civil rights of all Americans.”

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