Trump nominates two prominent GOP women: DeVos as education secretary, Haley as UN ambassador – Washington Post

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President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday selected two prominent Republican women for Cabinet-level positions, adding diversity to an inner circle that was already coming under fire for being composed mostly of white men.

In a potentially controversial choice, Trump intends to nominate billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos for education secretary, turning to a conservative activist who has forcefully pushed for private school voucher programs. Her nomination is expected to face strong opposition from public school advocates, who oppose her efforts to funnel taxpayer dollars from public to private and religious schools.

“Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said in a statement. “Under her leadership we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”

Hours earlier, Trump had announced that he will fill the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations slot with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a rising Republican star and daughter of Indian immigrants who has virtually no foreign policy experience.

Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) was nominated to be President-elect Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations. Here’s what you need to know about the rising Republican star. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Haley’s nomination marked Trump’s first female appointment to a Cabinet-level post after his initial selections, such as attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions and incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn, had been older white men.

Though Trump was elected with strong support from white working-class voters, people familiar with the president-elect’s thinking said he wanted to announce both women’s appointments before Thanksgiving to show that his Cabinet will be diverse. The decision to nominate DeVos, who met with Trump last weekend, was made in the past 48 hours, the people said. They added that DeVos benefited from strong support in the conservative movement and among conservative political donors.

But DeVos immediately drew scathing opposition from the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union. “By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities,’’ NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement. “She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education.’’

DeVos tweeted that she is “honored to work with the President-elect on his vision to make American education great again. The status quo in ed is not acceptable.”

DeVos — whose husband, Dick DeVos Jr., is an heir to the Amway direct-sale fortune — is a Michigan power broker and major donor to conservative causes and candidates around the country. Her brother is Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, one of the most profitable private security contractors during the Iraq War.

DeVos and her family supported Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the GOP presidential primaries, and she was never an enthusiastic supporter of Trump. “I still have reservations about him as a person,” she told The Washington Post in July at the Republican National Convention, which she attended as a Michigan delegate.

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She has been closer to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who as governor of Indiana pushed to expand that state’s voucher program into the nation’s largest. She also has close ties to many Republicans in Washington, and her nomination was greeted with enthusiasm by GOP leaders on Capitol Hill. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate education committee and frequent critic of what he viewed as the Obama administration’s federal overreach on education, called her “an excellent choice.”

But others said her nomination heralded an intent by the Trump administration to dismantle the nation’s public schools by draining them of students and resources.

“Betsy DeVos is everything Donald Trump said is wrong in America: an ultra-wealthy heiress who uses her money to game the system and push a special-interest agenda that is opposed by the majority of voters,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn — executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization that has long raised concerns about funneling tax dollars to religious schools — called her nomination “an insult to public education.”

Haley, also a former Trump critic, is generally considered a mainstream Republican, with views on military and national security matters that fall within the GOP’s hawkish mainstream.

“Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country,” Trump said in a statement. “She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”

Haley, who has accepted the offer, said she is “honored that the president-elect has asked me to join his team and serve the country we love.’’

Her words represented a sharp departure from the campaign, during which she also initially backed Rubio for the GOP nomination and lambasted Trump as “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president.”

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