After receiving numerous prompts urging Tennesseans to contact their U.S. senators about Betsy DeVos, many constituents want to know just how many got through before Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker voted to confirm the Michigan billionaire as the nation’s new education chief.
But both senators have refused to say.
One day after casting their votes, Tennessee’s Republican senators dodged questions again about the number of calls to their offices and how many were for or against DeVos to lead the U.S. Department of Education.
Across the nation, congressional offices were flooded with calls and emails over DeVos, who bungled several questions about public education in her Senate confirmation hearing and became one of President Donald Trump’s most controversial cabinet picks. Alexander and Corker said during the discussion that they welcomed input from their constituents, and numerous groups had rallied stakeholders to provide just that.
But following DeVos’s confirmation in a squeaker vote, only the National Education Association released specifics for members of the country’s largest teachers union who used its online system to voice their opinions. The group, which strongly opposed DeVos’s nomination, reported on Wednesday that 8,500 calls and emails were routed to Alexander and about the same number to Corker.
The NEA count does not include those who called or emailed Tennessee’s senators on their own.
Alexander has been at the forefront of the national debate because he chairs the committee responsible for vetting the president’s nominee for education secretary. Asked Wednesday for a breakdown of the calls, his office released this statement:
“We heard from thousands of people, and I am always glad to hear from people about it. About more than half of the people who called were from outside Tennessee. I took some of the calls myself and talked with teachers and others who called concerned, and I was happy to talk with them,” Alexander said.
A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Education Association said the NEA’s online system first asks participants to enter their zip code to direct them to their senators. Though the association can’t guarantee that all correspondence to Alexander and Corker was from Tennesseans, she said members were urged to reach out to their own senators.
A Corker spokeswoman did not give a reason why the senator won’t disclose tallies about DeVos feedback.
“Our office hears from thousands of Tennesseans each week on a wide range of issues,” said a statement from his office. “Senator Corker is aware of every call, letter and email we receive, and as always, he is grateful for input and appreciates his constituents sharing their thoughts with him.”
Alexander also reaffirmed on Wednesday his support for DeVos, who became the first cabinet nominee to require a vice president’s tie-breaking vote.
“Mrs. DeVos cares about children,” Alexander said. “She spent the last 30 years focused on more effective public schools. She spent a lot of her own money trying to help low-income kids have the choice of better schools that wealthy people have, and she believes in local control of education. Now that sounds like the kind of education secretary that any Republican president would appoint, so no one should be surprised by that.”