WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Senate has confirmed President Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary by the narrowest possible margin, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie.
It was the first time a vice president had to break a tie on a Cabinet nomination, the Senate historian said.
Betsy DeVos, a wealthy Republican donor and long-time school choice advocate, emerged as one of Trump’s most controversial Cabinet picks. Labor unions bitterly contested DeVos’ nomination, fearing that she will destroy public education by promoting charter schools and publicly funded voucher programs for private schools. Civil rights activists also fear she will do little to advocate for LGBT students and children with special needs.
Trump stood behind his nominee, accusing Democrats of fighting progress and change. In an earlier tweet, Trump wrote “Betsy DeVos is a reformer, and she is going to be a great Education Sec. for our kids!”
Two GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, joined Democrats Tuesday to vote to derail DeVos’ nomination.
After an all-night speaking marathon by Democrats, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee 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.
“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 isle, that can set a vision that can fight for public schools, that can be that champion,” Murray said.
“All I will say to those 50 people who voted yes is — just remember you voted yes if she starts destroying your local neighborhood public schools,” United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew told WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb said. “The teachers and parents of this country are going to make sure that we hold you accountable.”
Emotions ran high ahead of the vote as constituents jammed senators’ phone lines with calls and protesters gathered outside the Capitol, including one person in a grizzly bear costume to ridicule DeVos’ comment during her confirmation hearing that some schools might want guns to protect against grizzlies. Her opponents also charge that DeVos has no experience to run public schools, having never attended one or sent her children to a public school.
Protests against DeVos popped up across the country from teacher unions and other liberal groups over DeVos’ support of charter schools and school vouchers. The hashtag #NoOnDeVos also began trending on Twitter Tuesday.
“If a nominee doesn’t measure up, like Betsy #DeVos, the Senate has a responsibility to reject the nom.,” New York Sen. Charles Schumer tweeted.
“I am not just voting no, I am voting no way,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons Delaware said on the Senate floor.
The White House had words for Senate Democrats following the confirmation.
“The fact that we had to get to the point that the vice president has to be pulled in to overcome the democrat’s historic and partisan log jam for the vice president’s qualified nominee is another glaring reminder of the unprecedented obstruction that democrats have engaged in,” Press Secretary, Sean Spicer said.
Republicans argue DeVos will shake things up, CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported.
“She brings with her a fresh set of eyes,” South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said.
Republicans accused Democrats of slow-walking DeVos and other qualified nominees to placate liberal base voters who still haven’t come to terms with Trump’s election.
“It seems this gridlock and opposition has far less to do with the nominees actually before us than the man who nominated them,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “Enough is enough.”
“Betsy DeVos is a well-qualified candidate who’s earned the support of 20 governors and several education groups from across the nation,” McConnell tweeted.
In addition to DeVos, Republicans hope to confirm a series of other divisive nominees this week: Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general, GOP Rep. Tom Price of Georgia as health secretary and financier Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary.
In each case Democrats intend to use the maximum time allowed under the Senate’s arcane rules to debate the nominations, which may result in a late-night votes this week and delay Mnuchin’s approval until Saturday.
Republicans complain that previous presidents have been able to put their Cabinets in place more quickly. Democrats say it’s Trump’s fault because many of his nominees have complicated financial arrangements and ethical entanglements they claim they have not had enough time to dissect. Thus far, six Cabinet and high-level officials have been confirmed, including the secretaries of state, defense, homeland security and transportation.
The clash over nominees has created a toxic atmosphere in the Senate that mirrors the tense national mood since Trump’s election, with Democrats boycotting committee votes and Republicans unilaterally jamming nominees through committee without Democrats present. Yet there is little suspense about the final outcome on any of the nominees because Democrats themselves changed Senate rules when they were in the majority several years ago so that Cabinet nominees can now be approved with a simple majority, not the 60 votes previously required.
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