President Donald Trump said he would jettison a proposal to slash funding for the Special Olympics, undercutting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the budget proposal he signed.
“The Special Olympics will be funded. I just told my people I want to fund the Special Olympics,” Trump said he left the White House en route to a political rally in Grand Rapids, Mich. “I have overridden my people. We’re funding the Special Olympics.”
Trump’s remarks came after widespread criticism targeted DeVos’ budget proposal to eliminate funding for the program, which is designed to help children and adults with disabilities.
DeVos’ proposed $17.6 million cut for the Special Olympics was included in the $4.75 trillion federal budget that President Donald Trump’s administration sent to Congress earlier this month.
Trump, in his comments on Thursday, offered no additional information about whether his administration will commit to funding the entire $17.6 million Special Olympics had been getting and whether it will be protected from future proposed reductions.
After Trump made the announcement, DeVos thanked the president and said they see “eye to eye” on this, adding she pushed him to change his stance on funding the program.
Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, also voiced her support after Trump’s remarks, saying on Twitter: “Love the @SpecialOlympics!” Karen Pence led the U.S. delegation to this year’s Special Olympics World Games in the United Arab Emirates.
It is not just Special Olympics facing the budget ax. Trump seeks dramatic across-the-board spending cuts to domestic programs for the coming fiscal year. An exception: the military, which would get a 5 percent increase under his proposal.
“Get rid of the fat, get rid of the waste,” Trump had instructed his Cabinet.
DeVos, however, proposed additional funding for a few programs, including charter schools and a tax credit for individuals and companies that donate to scholarships for private schools.
DeVos said she had to make some hard decisions after the president demanded across-the-board cuts and has had to defend her cuts to members of Congress, where she’s faced days of being grilled.
Earlier Thursday, DeVos—a wealthy Republican donor and former school choice advocate—was on Capitol Hill again defending the proposed cut to the Special Olympics to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.
During that hearing, she sharply criticized comments on the proposed cut by U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., as a “shameful” and “disgusting” political ploy.
“I’ve given a portion of my salary to Special Olympics,” said DeVos, raising her voice as Durbin tried to interrupt her with more questions about the cut. “Let’s not use disabled children in a twisted way for your political narrative. That’s just disgusting and is shameful.”
Durbin responded that proposing to eliminate $18 million out of a $64-billion Education Department budget for something as beloved as Special Olympics “is shameful, too.”
He added that whoever approved the proposed cut should get “a special Olympic gold medal for insensitivity.”
The education secretary has explained her rationale by saying the Special Olympics is a private organization – not a federal program – that is better supported by philanthropy.
The cuts have not gone into effect yet and did not have a strong chance of passing in Congress. The budget is just a proposal, a way for the Trump administration to spell out its spending priorities for the coming year.
Trump’s budget was basically dead the moment it arrived at Congress. And, given the political support that the Special Olympics has in Congress, there’s virtually no chance that lawmakers will let the proposed cuts to the program stand.