On the heels of President Donald Trump’s abrupt Cabinet firings and public rebukes of his secretaries, Margaret Spellings — President George W. Bush’s education secretary from 2005 to 2009 — spoke out about the “extremely stressful” environment in Washington.
“It’s hard. It’s really hard,” Spellings said on the latest episode of the Women Rule podcast. “It speaks to — you have to have a leader who reaches his or her hand across the aisle and makes that the expectation.”
Asked whether she believes Trump is making that effort, Spellings, now the president of the University of North Carolina system, responded: “Well, I would just say that I think my boss — I think his predecessors maybe showed some good examples of how you could do that.”
“It must be an extremely stressful environment to try to work in,” she added.
Spellings, who served as Bush’s chief domestic policy adviser before leading the Department of Education, also attributes the hardships to increased partisan bickering since the previous Republican administration.
As an example of bipartisanship during her own days in the White House, Spellings — who crafted the No Child Left Behind Act when serving as a policy adviser — referred to the passage of the landmark education legislation. No Child Left Behind passed in the Senate 87-10, and in the House 381-41.
“That’s hard to think that you could do that today,” she mused. “The politics are very entrenched and radioactive. Just the climate seems very difficult.”
The former education secretary offered some praise for the woman who currently holds the title, Betsy DeVos.
“I admire her and anybody in public life,” Spellings said, “because we get the government we deserve.”
Spellings deemed DeVos — who, before her Washington posting, was a billionaire philanthropist and Republican donor based in Michigan — particularly worthy of praise because under Trump, “these are hard jobs.”
And, according to Spellings, Cabinet roles are even more difficult when those serving don’t have a deep well of federal policy experience.
“I do think those of us who’ve spent some time in the public sector, and in making government work over many decades probably have an easier time adapting to life in Washington, working with legislative bodies and so forth,” she said.