Vice President Pence cast the deciding vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as education secretary Tuesday after opponents failed amid a groundswell of opposition to produce the additional “no” vote required to sink her nomination.
DeVos was confirmed by a vote of 51 to 50 just at 12:30 p.m., with Pence breaking a 50-50 tie — the first time a vice president has cast a Senate vote since Richard B. Cheney helped break a tie on a procedural matter in 2008.
DeVos “understands that teachers, students, parents, school boards, and state and local governments — not Washington bureaucrats — are best suited to make education decisions for our kids,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday. “I know she’s committed to improving our education system so that every child has a brighter future.”
As expected, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined the Democratic caucus to oppose DeVos’s confirmation.
The Senate also voted to “invoke cloture” — limit debate — on the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be attorney general by a vote of 52 to 47, setting him up for a final confirmation vote later in the week. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) was the only Democrat to join Republicans in voting to advance the nomination. Sessions himself abstained.
Tuesday’s votes are expected to usher in a period of intense and unified Democratic opposition to Trump’s Cabinet nominees, including those chosen to lead the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury — a historic rebuke of a first-term president’s Cabinet selections.
Nodding to thousands of constituents’ fury over Trump’s nominees, Democrats held a 24-hour protest against DeVos on the Senate floor ahead of Tuesday’s vote, charging throughout the night and early hours that the Republican billionaire power broker and charter school advocate lacked the experience to lead the U.S. public school system.
“Betsy DeVos is the negative trifecta,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a floor speech. “Negative on competence — she doesn’t even understand the basic aspects of education. Negative on philosophy — she disdains public education, where 90 percent of our kids are. And negative on ethics — her conflicts of interest are legion and she hasn’t, like some other Cabinet nominees, tried to erase them.”
Trump’s Cabinet nominees are expected to see little to no support from Democrats going forward. As of Monday, no Democrat had announced support for Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), nominated to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, or Steve Mnuchin, nominated as treasury secretary. They all are scheduled for up-or-down votes in the coming days.
Opposition to labor nominee Andrew Puzder; Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), tapped to lead the Office of Management and Budget; and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency remains firm, but the final whip count is less certain, aides said Monday. Votes on those nominees are not scheduled for a few more weeks. Puzder has not yet been scheduled for a confirmation hearing.
Democrats announced in January that they would target eight Trump Cabinet nominees on the basis of their policy positions or lack of government experience. Only one of the eight, Rex Tillerson, has been confirmed so far — but he was the first secretary of state nominee in U.S. history to ever have to clear various procedural hurdles before a final vote.
Still, the level of opposition to DeVos was notable given that 25 members of the Senate Democratic caucus are facing reelection next year, including 10 from states that Trump won. Those 10 have been facing pressure from Republicans to work with Trump or to be supportive of his policies and nominees.
But even the most imperiled Democrats stood firm, including Sen. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), who said he would vote against DeVos, Sessions and Price. He continues to review Mnuchin’s record before a final vote, a spokeswoman said.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said last month that he planned to vote against DeVos in part because she “prioritizes private schools over public ones. That would put our students, Montana’s rural communities and our very democracy at risk.”
DeVos has spent decades using her family wealth and its political clout to advocate giving parents taxpayer-funded avenues to allow choice beyond troubled public schools.
Many Republican elected officials, who have received campaign donations from DeVos or her family members, embrace her views and consider her an ideal “outsider” to change the nation’s education system.
But progressive groups and labor unions — who also donate generously to Democratic senators — have unleashed members on senators in both parties for weeks, flooding Capitol Hill phone systems with messages opposing DeVos.
Republicans on Monday blasted Democrats for continuing to delay votes on Trump’s nominees, especially for forcing senators to run out the clock on procedural votes to prolong the inevitable.
The continued delays are causing the slowest formation of a new president’s Cabinet since at least the 1950s, Republican said. As of Monday, just four of Trump’s Cabinet secretaries have been confirmed, compared with 12 of former president Barack Obama’s Cabinet-level nominees at this point in 2009 and 16 of George W. Bush’s picks in 2001.