As a rule, outgoing cabinet secretaries at least go through the motions during a presidential transition period. They'll meet with their apparent successors, vow to help the incoming team as best they can, and take steps to create a seamless handoff from one administration to the next.
But occasionally, some cabinet secretaries say what's actually on their minds. Politico reported overnight, for example, on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urging career officials at the Department of Education to "be the resistance" once the Biden/Harris administration takes office next month.
During a department-wide virtual meeting to discuss the shift to the new administration, DeVos acknowledged that most of the agency's thousands of career employees "will be here through the coming transition and beyond." ... "Let me leave you with this plea: Resist," DeVos said. "Be the resistance against forces that will derail you from doing what's right for students. In everything you do, please put students first — always."
So, as far as the beleaguered and controversial Secretary of Education is concerned, the key to serving students' interests is to fight against her successor, whoever that might be.
Part of what makes comments like these so odd is DeVos' apparent belief that career officials at the Department of Education will rally to the Michigan Republican's cause, even after she's exited the building.
That's unlikely. As the Politico report added, "The secretary's remarks come after nearly four years of frequently sparring with the career employees of her department. She tangled with the agency's union over reorganizations and workplace policies, such as teleworking rules, and blamed bureaucrats at the agency for making it difficult to get things done."
In other words, DeVos, a fierce and longtime critic of public schools, clashed with Department of Education officials throughout her tenure, and she's now asking them to "resist" the incoming administration's pro-public-school agenda.
I didn't hear the recording of the cabinet secretary's remarks, but it's hard not to wonder whether some Department of Education employees struggled to stifle laughter.
But it's also striking to see a Trump cabinet secretary make such a request in the first place. For much of the last four years, the Republican president and many of his conspiratorial allies have railed against a nefarious force they describe as the "deep state." And while some use the phrase in different ways, the general idea is that there's a group of nefarious executive branch officials -- from previous administrations, of course -- who've been working in the shadows to undermine Donald Trump and his ambitions.
It's against this backdrop that Betsy DeVos, out loud, told a group of executive branch officials to "be the resistance" following Joe Biden's inauguration -- which sounds quite a bit like an ironic call for some kind of "deep state," as defined by Team Trump.