The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrats’ 24-hour talkathon against Betsy DeVos proves how little power they actually have in Washington

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Senate Democrats took to Twitter just after noon Monday to make a MAJOR announcement: They would be holding the floor straight through the night to protest President Trump's nomination of Betsy DeVos as education secretary.

Big news, right? Democrats rising up in opposition to President Trump!

Not really, actually. In fact, Senate Democrats’ promised talkathon is actually a sign of the relatively meager amount of power the party has these days when it comes to curtailing the president's wishes.

Here's why: Yes, Democrats can hold the floor all night and all Tuesday morning in advance of the confirmation vote on DeVos. But what they almost certainly can't do is stop her from becoming the secretary of education.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) announced last week that they wouldn't vote for DeVos. That meant that if just one more Republican came out against DeVos, her nomination would be doomed. But none did. People like Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska shut down speculation that they might be a third “no.” Over the weekend, the chatter over DeVos fell silent — suggesting that she would likely be confirmed on a 50-50 vote, with Vice President Pence casting the deciding vote in her favor.

Assuming DeVos goes through, she will be the sixth Trump Cabinet pick to be confirmed. While that's behind the traditional confirmation pace, Trump still hasn't lost a single Cabinet pick despite his selections composing the most conservative Cabinet in modern presidential history. (Trump can thank Harry M. Reid for that.)

That's not to say that Democrats gain nothing from their opposition to DeVos. There's been a very aggressive organizing effort at the grass-roots level to overwhelm the Senate phone system with calls opposing DeVos.

That sort of mobilization — particularly this far from any sort of an election — isn't a bad thing. And, in fact, it could be the start of a broader organization effort aimed at the 2018 midterms.

And, while Democrats are currently struggling to disrupt Trump's Cabinet picks, they will gain influence and power when the fight turns to actual legislation — like the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act — where 60 votes are required to pass anything.

But politics is a results-oriented business. Trying hard is no substitute for winning. And, unless something very unforeseen happens while Senate Democrats talk on the floor for the next 18 hours or so, they are going to lose on DeVos right around noon Tuesday.

It's a rude welcome to a Washington, where Republicans control all three levers of the federal government and where the filibuster is (almost) dead. A DeVos confirmation would be the latest piece of evidence that it's never been harder to stop a majority party in Washington from doing exactly what it wants to do.