In the midst of a heated partisan battle between Democrats and Republicans this week, the Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 7, confirmed billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, relying on a crucial tie breaking vote from U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. The Senate was deadlocked 50-to-50, after two Republicans voted against the nominee, citing her lack of qualifications for the job.
This is the first time in U.S. history that a Vice President has had to use his/her vote to have a cabinet member confirmed. DeVos, a wealthy Republican donor and philanthropist, has spent a large chunk of her life advocating for educational choice through charter schools and vouchers. In Michigan, she spearheaded and paid for a privately run school system funded by public dollars. Teachers unions, progressives and some charter school companies came out against her not only for her ideological views on privatizing education, but also because of her apparent lack of knowledge and experience with public school issues. DeVos had cringe worthy moments when she showed a lack of familiarity with laws protecting students with disabilities and terms used for assessing a student’s progress.
Republican opposition to Pres. Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks could foreshadow trouble in future legislative priorities, such as the upcoming confirmation votes for Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, Rep. Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Steven T. Mnuchin for Treasury Secretary. Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined Democrats on Tuesday in voting against the wealthy philanthropist, citing her limited experience in the public school system, The New York Times reported.
Though Democrats held a rare all-nighter to protest DeVos’ confirmation on Monday, their efforts fell short of keeping her out of the powerful position. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asserted that DeVos was a greater threat to education than grizzlies, mocking DeVos’ comments last week when she said the threat of grizzly bears was justification for allowing states to determine their own policies regarding guns in schools.
“She went on to say, ‘Well, but we need guns in schools, yes, because grizzly bears may pose a significant threat to the safety of our children and perhaps their education,'” Harris said from the Senate floor Monday. “I think Ms. DeVos poses a far greater threat to public education.
“It is clear from her testimony, Betsy DeVos has not done her homework and she hasn’t done her homework in terms of preparing for the job,” Harris continued. “She did not prepare her homework and do homework in terms of preparing for her hearing.”
The Hill reported that Democrats held the all-night session with hopes of convincing a third Republican to vote against DeVos, a move that would tank her nomination.
“If just one more of my Republican colleagues were to announce their opposition, were to vote ‘no,’ we could [have done] the right thing and told President Trump that he really needs to find a new candidate,” Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin said.