Two Republican senators on Wednesday announced they will vote against Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, putting her potential confirmation into question.
DeVos on Tuesday was voted out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on a party line vote. But today, two Republican senators who voted to report her nomination to the full Senate – Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – said on the Senate floor that they will not support her nomination when it comes to a vote by the full Senate. If no other Republican senators defect, and all Democrats vote against DeVos, the vote would come to a 50-50 tie, leaving the deciding vote to Vice President Mike Pence.
“This is not a decision that I’ve made lightly,” Collins said on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon. “I have a great deal of respect for Mrs. DeVos. I believe that she is a good person. I know that she cares deeply about the children of this nation. But for the reasons that I will explain, I simply cannot support her confirmation.”
Collins went on to say that while she appreciated that DeVos has dedicated “much time and resources to try to improve the education of at-risk children,” she still had concerns about DeVos’ strong concentration on charter schools and vouchers. That strong focus, Collins said, “raises the question about whether or not she fully appreciates that the secretary of education’s primary focus must be on helping states and communities, parents, teachers, school board administrators, school board members and administrators strengthen our public schools.”
Collins also said that she was concerned with DeVos’ apparent “lack of familiarity” with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.
“I’m concerned that Mrs. DeVos’ lack of experience with public schools will make it difficult for her to fully understand, identify, and assist with those challenges, particularly for our rural schools in states like Maine,” Collins said. She then noted that while she would vote to proceed with debate on DeVos’ nomination, she would ultimately vote against DeVos as the next secretary of education.
Murkowski said that, similar to Collins, DeVos’ nomination has been particularly difficult for her – a sentiment she also shared during the HELP committee vote on Tuesday. Murkowski added that after listening to her colleagues’ questions during DeVos’ confirmation hearing in the committee, and after reading written responses to not only her own additional questions, but also those from other senators, she believed that DeVos “cares deeply for all children.”
“So, Mrs. DeVos – she’s answered thousands of questions that have been put to her. Neither the Office of Government Ethics, the Senate HELP Committee, nor I have found any substantive reason to question Mrs. DeVos’ name or reputation,” Murkowski said. “But yet I have heard from thousands – truly thousands – of Alaskans who shared their concerns about Mrs. DeVos as secretary of education. … And their concerns center, as mine do, on Mrs. DeVos’ lack of experience with public education, and the lack of knowledge that she portrayed in her confirmation hearing.”
Despite the two defections, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the Senate HELP committee, said he believes DeVos “will be an excellent education secretary” and that he is confident she will be confirmed when the full Senate votes on her nomination.
When the time comes for a vote from the full Senate, DeVos will need a simple majority to be confirmed. If no other Republicans vote against DeVos, and all Democrats vote against her, the vote would come to a 50-50 tie, with Pence then holding the deciding vote.
Publication Date: 2/1/2017