Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is refusing to testify before the House Education and Labor Committee about her department’s collection of student loan debt from former Corinthian Colleges students, despite a threat of a subpoena from House Democrats.
“Secretary DeVos has declined to testify and we are reviewing our options, including a subpoena,” a committee aide told POLITICO Thursday night. Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) had given DeVos until Thursday at 6 p.m. to respond to the committee’s request that she appear.
House Democrats are scheduled to hold a hearing on Nov. 19 on the Education Department’s “refusal to provide debt relief” to students “who were defrauded” by the now defunct for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges, according to the hearing posting.
Last month, a federal judge held DeVos in contempt of court and imposed a $100,000 fine for violating an order to stop collecting on the student loans owed by former Corinthian students. The department admitted to the court earlier this year that it had erroneously collected on the loans of some 16,000 borrowers who attended Corinthian Colleges.
Scott, in a letter to DeVos on Nov. 1, said his committee would consider using its legal authority to compel her testimony if she didn’t accept an offer to appear voluntarily.
Before Scott’s Nov. 1 letter, the department’s acting general counsel, Reed Rubinstein, wrote to Scott saying that DeVos wasn’t able to testify, citing “active litigation.”
Scott’s follow-up letter insisted that DeVos was the only appropriate Education Department witness to testify on the matter.
DeVos, in a letter to Scott released by the department on Thursday night, suggested to Scott that “you and I have a conversation, either in person or over the phone, at your convenience to discuss borrower defense claims.” She said that she had originally had suggested an in-person briefing for Scott with Mark Brown, the head of Federal Student Aid, because of the complexity of the case.
“These back-and-forth letters seem to do little to advance the public good, though clearly, are effective at generating headlines,” DeVos wrote Scott.
She added that his letter to her “suggests a basic misunderstanding of the state of play,” that the department wants to process the student claims and “what we need is swift action by the court.”
Said DeVos: “There’s nothing more I can offer than that. It is, quite simply, the answer to all of the questions you have posed.”
Rubinstein, in a separate letter to the chairman, said the department was not “averse to the Secretary appearing before the committee at some point in the relatively near future to testify regarding Borrower Defense.” However, he stipulated it would only be appropriate after the committee heard from Brown and after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals renders a final decision on the merits of the case in the pending appeal.