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U.S. Sen. Casey opposes 3 Trump Cabinet picks

| Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, 5:36 p.m.
In this July 25, 2016 file photo, Sen, Bob Casey, D-Penn., speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said Wednesday he will oppose at least three of President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet nominations but intends to attend Trump's inauguration Friday even as the number of his Democratic counterparts in the House who say they won't swells.

Casey, a Democrat from Scranton, said he will oppose the nominations of Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos; Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, also a U.S. Senator; and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Casey reserved the most scathing criticism for DeVos.

“Ms. DeVos has no experience in public education and the education work she has done is centered upon pursuing efforts to undermine and privatize public schools,” Casey said in a statement.

DeVos, a wife to the heir of the Amway marketing fortune, has spent more than two decades advocating for school choice programs in Michigan to provide an alternative to traditional public education, as well as promoting conservative religious values. She helped design the Detroit charter school system.

Casey said DeVos “pushed for measures that substantially cut funding to public school students and diverted public dollars into taxpayer-funded, for-profit charter schools run by private companies with virtually no oversight or accountability standards.”

Citing a New York Times article, Casey said her work helped to create “a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States.” About 92 percent of Pennsylvania's children attend traditional public schools, and the state's charter schools must be run by public, nonprofit corporations, not for-profit groups, Casey noted.

DeVos testified at a confirmation hearing this week that she would not seek to dismantle public schools. She said she would address “the needs of all parents and students” but that a one-size-fits-all model doesn't work in education.

Among his concerns about Sessions' nomination, Casey said, “On the critically important issue of voting rights, we have a fundamental disagreement on legislation to protect these voting rights.”

Regarding Pruitt, Casey said, “I am concerned that the standards that protect the quality of the drinking water Pennsylvanians drink and the air Pennsylvanians breathe will be weakened and our commonwealth's children will pay the price,” noting that Pruitt fought against several environmental programs while served as Oklahoma's attorney general.

Pennsylvania's other U.S. Senator, Lehigh Valley Republican Pat Toomey, has called DeVos a “champion of school choice” and said Sessions would “make a great Attorney General.” He hasn't weighed in on Pruitt. A spokeswoman for Toomey said the senator has not met with Pruitt and is not on the committee that is vetting him.

Casey hasn't made a determination on U.S. Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, Trump's pick for health secretary. Price testified Wednesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and is scheduled to appear next week before the Finance Committee, which votes on reporting the nomination to the full Senate. Casey is on both committees.

Despite his opposition to several of Trump's Cabinet nominees, Casey plans to attend Trump's inauguration. No Democratic senators have vowed to skip the ceremony, though as of Wednesday, more than 60 Democrats in the House of Representatives — including U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle of Forest Hills — had said they would not attend.

Toomey, who waited until just before the polls closed Nov. 8 to say that he had voted for Trump, also will attend the inauguration.

“One of the most glorious facts in American history is our more than 200-year tradition of peaceful transitions of power,” Toomey said. “I am looking forward to seeing the next transition of power as Donald Trump is sworn in as our president on Friday.”

Staff writer Kevin Zwick and The Associated Press contributed. Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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