The Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as education secretary by the narrowest of margins on Feb. 7, marking the first time in history a vice president had to break a tied vote on a Cabinet nomination.
Screenshot of White House video
Democrats targeted DeVos early as a Cabinet nominee they wanted to scuttle. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., labeled DeVos “the least qualified nominee in a historically unqualified cabinet” and rallied his caucus to do everything it could to block her appointment.
They held the floor through the wee hours of the morning delivering speech after speech to oppose the nomination. Their last-ditch effort followed a campaign launched by teacher unions and education groups to rally parents to jam senators’ phone lines and bombard them with email and social media messages.
Concerns about DeVos’ qualifications for the position and pressure from constituents prompted Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to break ranks with the party. But no other Republicans abandoned ship, allowing DeVos to win confirmation on a 51-50 vote, thanks to Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaker.
“Senate Dems protest to keep the failed status quo,” Trump tweeted. “Betsy DeVos is a reformer, and she is going to be a great Education Sec. for our kids!”
DeVos has spent years working to influence the education system from the private sector. As a wealthy donor to GOP politicians, DeVos has been a strong advocate for expanding charter schools and vouchers programs to give families more educational choice.
But her critics say she has little experience in the educational system and warn she will direct the Education Department to promote her agenda by redirecting federal dollars to public school alternatives – possibly leaving children in rural communities without the resources they need.
Collins and Murkowski delivered back-to-back floor speeches last week outlining those concerns and explaining why they chose to defect from the GOP conference.
“The mission of the Department of Education is broad, but supporting public education is at its core,” Collins said. “I am 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.”
Murkowski and Collins both said thousands of calls from constituents helped sway their opinions. DeVos’ strongest supporters in the Senate blamed the smear campaign for causing unwarranted anxiety.
“It seems this gridlock and opposition has far less to do with the nominees actually before us than the man who nominated them,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “Enough is enough.”
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said DeVos’ passion for changing the nation’s education system stirs up apprehension. But no one should be comfortable with the current status quo, he said, and DeVos will bring much-needed change: “The real debate isn’t Betsy DeVos. The real debate is about generations of kids stuck in underperforming schools.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Evan Wilt writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)