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February 03, 2017

Toomey addresses weekly demonstrations: 'People are free to protest'

Senator affirms his support of Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos

Sen. Pat Toomey addressed the weekly protests that have occurred outside his Philadelphia office, telling Talk Radio WPHT 1210 that his staff repeatedly has met with them and will continue to do so.

In an interview Thursday with Dom Giordano, Toomey acknowledged the protests while again vouching his support for Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of education.

"There's been regular protests on Tuesday for some number of weeks now. Of course, I'm in Washington with a very, very busy schedule on Tuesdays. That's our schedule and everybody knows that. But, look, people are free to protest. People are free to express their point of view in whatever peaceful way they choose to do that."

Toomey went on to say that his staff has met with the protesters repeatedly, offering to sit down "every time" with as many people that can fit in a conference room. 

But protesters claimed otherwise, alleging Toomey's staffers have not regularly met with protesters and do not consistently accept letters brought to the office.

The weekly demonstrations began outside Toomey's office shortly after the election concluded. 

It started with a small group of women, but ballooned to include hundreds of people this week. Organizers of the protests, dubbed "Tuesdays with Toomey," say they want to have their voices heard by Pennsylvania's junior senator, whom they allege refuses to listen to them.

Constituents have flooded Toomey's offices with phone calls and faxes regarding a range of issues. Earlier this week, people began calling his offices to urge Toomey to oppose DeVos.

DeVos, a Michigan billionaire who supports school choice, faces a rocky path to confirmation. Two Republicans have said they will not vote to confirm her. Her nomination could be rejected if a third Republican joins all 48 Democrats in opposing her.

Toomey will not become that third Republican.

He reiterated his support for DeVos to Giordano before releasing a public statement acknowledging that he would vote to confirm her. Toomey told Giordano that DeVos is committed to ensuring poor students have an opportunity to receive a quality education.

"Betsy DeVos is perceived as a big threat to the status quo for one reason – she has spent decades of her life, tens of millions of dollars of her money, and an enormous amount of her peorsnal energy trying to create the opportunities for poor kids that wealthy and middle class kids already have. She wants the poorest kids in America to have a shot at the best education. 

Let's face it – too many of them are not getting it. They are trapped in schools that are failing, they can't afford a private school and they can't afford to move to an affluent place that has a wonderful public school district. These kids are being left behind every single day, and that's not acceptable to Betsy DeVos and it's not acceptable to me."

DeVos has donated $60,050 to Toomey's campaign, according to the Center for American Progress. That prompted a Philadelphia teaching artist to start a GoFundMe fundraiser to "buy" Pat Toomey's vote. 

Acknowledging such an act is illegal, the organizer says the money will be donated to Camp Sojourner, the Pennsylvania Arts Education Network and the Children's Literacy Initiative. Nearly $34,000 has been raised so far.

When Giordano mentioned the GoFundMe campaign, Toomey laughed.

"That's so funny," Toomey said. "Look, I give her credit for the humor value."

Toomey also discussed his support for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and Democratic efforts to block a Senate floor vote on two of Trump's cabinet nominees. 

Listen to the full interview below: