Pence Vote Confirms DeVos as Education Secretary
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate on Tuesday confirmed school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as Education secretary by the narrowest of margins, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie in a historic vote.
Two Republicans joined Democrats in the unsuccessful effort to derail the nomination of the wealthy Republican donor. The Senate historian said Pence's vote was the first by a vice president to break a tie on a Cabinet nomination.
Democrats cited her lack of public school experience and financial interests in organizations pushing charter schools. DeVos has said she would divest herself from those organizations.
Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska fear that DeVos' focus on charter schools will undermine remote public schools in their states.
Despite the win, DeVos emerges bruised from the highly divisive nomination process. She has faced criticism, even ridicule for her stumbles and confusion during her confirmation hearing and scathing criticism from teachers unions and civil rights activists over her support of charter schools and her conservative religious beliefs.
But President Donald Trump remained uncompromising and accused Democrats for seeking to torpedo education progress. In a tweet before the vote, he wrote "Betsy DeVos is a reformer, and she is going to be a great Education Sec. for our kids!"
U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) released the following statement after the vote:
“One of the most important jobs in our government is the Secretary of Education, who directly oversees the policies that children, teachers, school administrators, and entire communities depend on,” said Sen. Franken. “It’s not a job for amateurs who don’t know the first thing about education. I voted against the nomination of Betsy DeVos, a billionaire Republican donor, because she is the most incompetent cabinet-level nominee I have ever seen. Last night, I urged my Republican colleagues to oppose her nomination, because if we cannot set party loyalty aside long enough to perform the essential duty of vetting the President’s nominees, then I don’t know what we are even doing here. Betsy DeVos has demonstrated that she is fundamentally unqualified to lead the Education Department, and it’s a shame that Republicans voted to confirm one of their major donors instead of looking out for our children."
After an all-night speaking marathon by Democrats, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state,urged her Republican colleagues to vote against DeVos, calling her unqualified and saying that she will be a poor advocate for low income families and students with disabilities who rely on public education.
"We are just within one vote of sending this nomination back and asking the president to send us a nominee that can be supported by members on both sides of the aisle, that can set a vision that can fight for public schools, that can be that champion," Murray said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said DeVos will seek to empower states, not federal bureaucrats, to make important education decisions.
"I know that she is committed to improving our education system so that every child - every child - has a brighter future," McConnell said ahead of the vote.
DeVos has provided few details about her policy agenda, but she is sure to have a busy job. DeVos will have to weigh in on the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act and possibly undo some of the previous administration's regulation initiatives on school accountability and spending, which have been criticized by Republicans as federal overreach. Rules on such things as accountability already have been on hold.
She will have to address several hot-button issues in higher education, such as rising tuition costs, growing student debt and the troubled for-profit colleges, many of which have closed down, leaving students with huge loans and without a good education or job prospects. Observers will pay close attention to how DeVos deals with sexual assault and freedom of speech on campuses.