Senate to vote today on confirmation of Betsy DeVos
The Senate is moving toward a noon vote Tuesday on confirmation of Betsy DeVos as education secretary, with the outcome expected to be the narrowest approval of a Cabinet nominee in the nation’s history.
The entire Democratic caucus of 48 senators is expected to vote against DeVos, as are two Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, who have said they do not think that DeVos is qualified for the job. The remaining 50 Republicans are expected to vote for DeVos, setting up a 50-50 tie that could only be broken with a vote from Vice President Pence.
Democrats took to the Senate floor to speak out against DeVos for most of the day Monday and through the night into Tuesday, a 24-hour last-ditch effort to persuade one more Republican to break party ranks and derail the confirmation. But as the hours wore on, it became increasingly clear that their effort would likely fail.
“I hope against hope that another Republican senator will have the courage of the senators from Alaska and Maine and join us,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday morning. But if that doesn’t happen, Schumer said, “we Democrats are very proud of what we have done, because the nominee is so unqualified — and now Americans now know that.”
The Democratic speeches were interrupted occasionally by Republicans coming to the nominee’s defense. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said DeVos — who has no professional experience in public education — would bring “fresh eyes” to the job and push for more opportunities for poor and disadvantaged children. “I think she will help to improve public education,” Scott said.
If Pence is called upon to break a 50-50 deadlock, it would mark the first time that a vice president’s tiebreaking vote would be needed to confirm a Cabinet secretary, according to Daniel Holt, an assistant historian in the Senate Historical Office.
And it would be the first time a vice president cast any tiebreaking vote in the Senate since Richard B. Cheney did so nine years ago.
“We’re very confident that Betsy DeVos is going to be the next secretary of education and it’ll be my high honor to cast the deciding vote on the floor of the Senate next week,” Pence said on Fox News Sunday.
DeVos has faced an unprecedented wave of popular backlash and partisan opposition: Since the Education Department was established in 1979, nominees to lead it have always been easily confirmed, often on voice votes or with unanimous support. The closest confirmation vote for an education secretary was 49 to 40 in 2016, in favor of John B. King Jr. Jr., who served during the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency.
But DeVos is unlike previous nominees in that she has no personal or professional experience in public education or elected office.
A Michigan billionaire and major Republican donor, she has spent three decades using her wealth and political clout to advocate for alternatives to public schools, particularly taxpayer-funded vouchers to help parents pay tuition for private and religious schools. She also has advocated for a loosely regulated variety of charter schools.