US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks during the fifth meeting of the Federal Commission on School Safety, focusing on the best practices for school...
Saul Loeb

Trump administration struggles with proposed Special Olympics cuts

Updated

The Rachel Maddow Show, 3/27/19, 9:45 PM ET

Proposed DeVos budget eliminates federal Special Olympics funding

Rachel Maddow contrasts Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s history with the Special Olympics with her unexpected zeroing out of the federal funding for the Special Olympics in her proposed 2020 budget.
Rachel Maddow contrasts Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s history with the Special Olympics with her unexpected zeroing out of the federal funding for the Special Olympics in her proposed 2020 budget.
It’s easy to imagine the Trump administration feeling a little defensive about the Special Olympics because we’ve all seen Donald Trump mocking someone with a physical disability.

But that doesn’t explain just how badly the president and his team managed to mismanage their proposed cuts to the Special Olympics.

It started with the White House’s budget blueprint, which called for the total elimination of federal support to the program. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who’s presented herself as a champion of the Special Olympics, attacked media coverage of the proposed $18 million cut, before grudgingly conceding that the coverage was correct.

Ahead of a Capitol Hill hearing this week, DeVos must’ve known she’d face questions about this, but the cabinet secretary nevertheless struggled badly to defend her department’s proposed budget. In fact, DeVos didn’t seem able to answer even the most basic questions on the matter.

Yesterday, Donald Trump weighed in, but in a way that made no sense. The president told reporters yesterday afternoon:

“These Special Olympics will be funded. I just told my people I want to fund the Special Olympics and I just authorized a funding of the Special Olympics. I’ve been to the Special Olympics. I think it’s incredible and I just authorized a funding. I heard about it this morning. I have overridden my people. We are funding the Special Olympics.”

And while proponents of the Special Olympics were likely encouraged by Trump’s rhetoric, it wasn’t quite right.

The trouble is, the president still doesn’t quite understand how government spending works.

When Trump said, “I just authorized a funding,” that made it sound as if he personally saved the day, green-lighting a check to the program. That’s not how any of this works. The Trump White House asked Congress to cut all federal funding for the Special Olympics, and lawmakers made clear this week that they intend to ignore the administration’s recommendation.

Since Congress has the power of the purse, it’s the legislative branch that makes the call. What the president said yesterday, in effect, was that he now wants lawmakers to ignore this part of his own budget plan, which isn’t the same thing as actually making the investment.

He also notably threw DeVos under the bus – Trump’s “overridden” his “people” – which left the Education secretary scrambling, declaring on Twitter, “I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye to eye on this issue.”

Remember, it was just two days ago that DeVos tried to defend the cuts. Yesterday, however, she signaled her opposition to the cuts, aligning herself with the president who recommended the cuts in the first place – the same president who “overrode” her.

As for Trump’s efforts to position himself as the hero who rescued the funding, perhaps the president can explain why all three of his budget blueprints – 2017, 2018, and 2019 – have called for the end of federal support for the Special Olympics.

If the Republican “wants to fund the Special Olympics,” and thinks it’s “incredible,” why has he tried to cut all federal funding for it three times?

Postscript: DeVos added yesterday, “This is funding I have fought for behind-the-scenes over the last several years.” So, we’re to believe the Education secretary secretly supported the Special Olympics? Even while defending the budget cut to Congress?