With a historic tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence, the Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Betsy DeVos as the next education secretary.
The 51-50 vote was the first time in history a vice president’s vote has been necessary to confirm a Cabinet nomination. The vote came after Senate Democrats launched a 24-hour “talkathon” to try to derail the unexpectedly contentious nomination, in hopes of flipping one more Republican to oppose DeVos.
DeVos’ consideration for education secretary attracted an unusually large amount of attention from the media, lawmakers, constituents, and those in the education community after DeVos’ rocky confirmation hearing last month. Throughout the nomination process, Democrats have raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest, as well as DeVos’ apparent lack of knowledge about and experience with public education.
“For…people across the country…the nomination of Betsy DeVos truly hit close to home. It was a slap in the face. Because she doesn’t approach this the way most of us do,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in remarks on the Senate floor on Monday. “She doesn’t cherish public education – she doesn’t value it. She is someone who has dedicated her career and her inherited fortune to privatizing public schools. To tearing down public education. To defunding it – in order to push more taxpayer dollars into private schools and for-profit charters.”
It became questionable whether there would be a positive outcome for DeVos last week after two Republican senators – Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – said they could not vote to confirm DeVos after listening to constituents in their home states. Still, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) – who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee – said he was confident that DeVos would be confirmed.
If DeVos was confirmed, Murray said on Monday, “she would enter the job as the most controversial and embattled Secretaries in the history of this Department.”
“She would start her job with no credibility inside the agency she is supposed to lead. With no influence in Congress. As the punchline in late night comedy shows – and without the confidence of the American people,”Murray added. “A vote for Betsy DeVos is a vote for a Secretary of Education who is likely to succeed only in further dividing us on education issues. And who may try to take steps to implement her anti-student agenda – but would do so with people across the country, and so many of us in the Senate, on guard and ready to fight back.”
While Democrats hammered DeVos on her lack of experience, Republicans painted the opposition as a stance against school choice, and an unfair attack against DeVos simply because she was nominated by President Donald Trump.
Alexander said on the Senate floor before the vote that it should be no surprise that Trump picked someone from outside the “education establishment” to fill the role, and that with DeVos confirmed, there would be a reversal of what he has called the Department of Education’s (ED) role as a “national school board.” Alexander and other Republican senators have claimed DeVos had been treated differently than former President Barack Obama’s education secretary nominees.
“I’m supporting her...because she’s led the most effective public school reform over the last 30 years and of her commitment to help low-income children,” Alexander said. “You may disagree with the new president, but the people elected him. And I urge you to give the new Republican president the opportunity to choose his own education secretary, just like we did the Democratic president eight years ago and one year ago, even though we disagreed just as much with their view of federal policy on local schools as you do with her policy and President Trump’s policy on school choice.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said in a statement that DeVos should be congratulated for this impressive achievement and applauded for accepting this important responsibility.”
“The confirmation process is never easy, nor should it be,” Foxx said. “She will now take the helm of an agency charged with overseeing policies that affect practically every K-12 school, college, and university across the country. Just as importantly, she has the chance to prove to those who organized this malicious and personal campaign against her that they were wrong.”
Publication Date: 2/7/2017