Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) told Rachel Maddow on her MSNBC show Thursday night that no Democrat will vote to confirm Betsy DeVos, the Michigan billionaire tapped by President Trump to be his education secretary. He also said Democrats were actively looking for Republicans to vote against her.
Her supporters praise her for being a longtime advocate of school choice, but her critics say her education advocacy is aimed at privatizing the country’s public education system.
DeVos appeared before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions last week and fumbled badly, displaying a lack of understanding of key education issues under tough questioning from Democrats.
Since then, opposition to her nomination has been growing. Tens of thousands of people have called or written to senators urging them to vote against her, more than 1 million people have signed petitions, and hundreds of alumni and students from her alma mater, Calvin College, wrote a letter to the legislators saying she was unqualified to be education secretary.
DeVos has received expressions of support, too, notably from former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Her supporters are also pointing to public backing from Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal. WOOD-TV reported on emails and correspondence it had obtained on the endorsement. It said in part:
The correspondence shows plans for a trip to DeVos’ confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., paid for by DeVos’ nonprofit, American Federation for Children. It also included “talking points” provided by the organization.”
The leader of the GRPS teachers union said the emails and correspondence raise questions about whether the superintendent is too closely tied to DeVos.
The committee is scheduled to vote on her nomination on Tuesday, Jan. 31, a week later than originally scheduled. Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) moved the date after Democrats demanded more time to ask her questions after her confirmation hearing performance. He declined a Democratic request for a second hearing.
Franken told Maddow that Senate Democrats held a recent retreat to talk about strategy for dealing with Trump’s Cabinet nominees, though he declined to say what it was. He did say that DeVos was one of the nominations that would receive strong Democratic opposition. He did not specifically say whether he meant on the education committee or the Senate floor, but it seemed as if he was talking about a confirmation vote in the entire Senate.
“You talk about DeVos,” he said. “She is someone that there’s not going to be one Democratic vote for her, and we’re trying to find Republicans who will vote against her because she’s an ideologue who knows next to nothing about education policy as we demonstrated, or she demonstrated really, in her confirmation hearing.”
He also said: “There’s going to be a lot of these nominees who we’re going to do everything we can to defeat. As you know, these nominees need 51 votes and we have 48, so we need some Republicans…. You will see a number of these nominees who virtually all of us [Democrats] will oppose…. I’m sure that’s true of DeVos.”
Will any Republicans oppose her? That remains to be seen. No Republican senator has come out publicly against her, and some have promised to vote for her.
During the confirmation hearing, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told DeVos that she had some issues with her strong vision of expanding school choice because it is difficult in rural areas to provide choices other than traditional public schools. Murkowski is one of five Republican senators on the committee to whom DeVos and family members have given donations; the other four are Sens. Richard Burr, Tim Scott, Bill Cassidy and Todd Young.
It is not clear where Maine’s senior senator, Republican Susan Collins, who is a member of the committee, stands on the DeVos nomination. The Portland Press Herald reported that her office has said she would vote in support of Elaine Chao for transportation secretary, as well as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama for attorney general and former senator Dan Coats of Indiana as director of national intelligence. But it did not say how she would vote on DeVos.
Maine’s other senator, Angus King (I), has said he will vote against DeVos.
So did Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). The Senate minority leader released a blistering statement saying he would “proudly” vote against DeVos:
“The President’s decision to ask Betsy DeVos to run the Department of Education should offend every single American man, woman, and child who has benefitted from the public education system in this country. Public education has lifted millions out of poverty, has put millions in good paying jobs, and has been the launching pad for people who went on to cure disease and to create inventions that have changed our society for the better.
“Betsy DeVos would single-handedly decimate our public education system if she were confirmed. Her plan to privatize education would deprive students from a good public education, while helping students from wealthy families get another leg up. It would deprive teachers of a decent salary, and it would make it harder for parents to get a good education for their kids.
“Betsy DeVos would be just another member of the swamp cabinet that is full of billionaires and bankers. The fact that she refuses to divest from companies that would line her family’s pocket as education secretary, while crushing students with additional debt is all the proof one needs to know that she is in this for herself, and not for students.”
Schumer’s comment that she would “single-handedly decimate” was hyperbolic, as no education secretary can do that all by themselves. That would require help from Congress, the president and state legislatures.
Here are the members of the committee who will vote on her nomination.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)
Sen. Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.)
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.)
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.)
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.)
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)
Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.)
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.)