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Betsy DeVos Nomination At 50-50 After Two GOP Defections

The nomination of Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education appears to be somewhat imperiled, and would appear to require a tie-breaking vote from Vice-President Pence to make it through the Senate:

Betsy DeVos has no votes to spare heading into a looming confirmation vote next week.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski said Wednesday they will vote against the Education Department nominee. That could very well mean a 50-50 standoff on the Senate floor — and Vice President Mike Pence being called in to put DeVos over the top. Republicans have a 52-48 majority, and no Democrats are expected to support the prospective education chief.

Senior leadership aides are confident DeVos will prevail in a likely floor vote Monday. After Collins and Murkowski announced their opposition Wednesday, a wave of undecided GOP senators broke DeVos’ way.

“Due to her commitment to improve our nation’s school system for all students and her focus on increasing parental engagement, I am supporting Betsy DeVos as our nation’s next secretary of education,” Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who was seen as the final potential swing vote, said late Wednesday afternoon. “I believe Betsy DeVos is the right choice for this position.”

If Pence is enlisted to break a tie, it would be the first time a vice president ensured the confirmation of a Cabinet nominee.

The back-to-back announcements by Collins and Murkowski created several hours of drama on Wednesday, raising liberals’ hopes of sinking a Trump nominee.

“This is not a decision I make lightly. I have a great deal of respect for Mrs. DeVos,” Collins said on the floor on Wednesday. “I will not, cannot vote to confirm her.”

Several Republicans, including Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, began breaking “yes” for DeVos after Murkowski and Collins came out against her. Heller is up for reelection in 2018 and is viewed by Democrats as the most vulnerable GOP incumbent.

Now, if Republicans are able to make sure they don’t have attendance problems, DeVos is likely to be confirmed on Monday.

In an interview, Collins said she will allow DeVos to advance to a final vote, before opposing her. Likewise, Murkowski said she will oppose DeVos on final passage, a shocking rebellion against President Donald Trump that rippled through the Capitol.

“I have heard from thousands, truly, thousands of Alaskans who have shared their concerns about Mrs. DeVos,” Murkowski said. “I do not intend to vote on final passage to support Mrs. DeVos.”

The objection to DeVos appears to center on her support for school choice and charter schools, both ideas that I don’t really have an objection to but which teacher’s unions are vehemently opposed to. Perhaps not coincidentally, both Collins and Murkowski are among the handful of national Republicans who have received contributions from those unions, so that may explain their position on the nomination. It’s also worth noting that the delay in DeVos’s nomination, which could be held tomorrow as I understand it but may be delayed until next week, will also delay a floor vote on the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General since Republicans will need his vote to keep the count on DeVos at 50- 50. Additionally, as noted Pence’s tie-breaking vote would be the first time such a vote is needed to confirm a Cabinet nomination, It also comes very early in Pence’s term, which contrasts with his predecessor Joe Biden, who went eight years without having to cast a single tie-breaking vote.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Alameda says:

    “Due to her commitment to improve our nation’s school system for all students and her focus on increasing parental engagement, I am supporting Betsy DeVos as our nation’s next secretary of education,” Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who was seen as the final potential swing vote, said late Wednesday afternoon. “I believe Betsy DeVos is the right choice for this position.”

    yeah, right, sure … Actually, Heller is afraid that the Tea Party/Breitbart types will come after him at re-election time.

    For me, after hearing her say (directly) that she does not believe that the private/charter schools that receive federal monies should be subject to the same transparency that public schools are, should have been a deal breaker for more than TWO Republican senators.

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  2. MarkedMan says:

    The Dem’s are losing an opportunity here. We are going to get DeVos and they should be tying her tightly to the Republicans. “This is another step in the Republicans effort to destroy the public school system in America”, “The Republicans are using her to stick their hands into your local school and wreck it”, “Republicans have long hated the idea of public schools and this is their chance to make yours so bad your kids are driven out”, and so on.

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  3. Franklin says:

    The objection to DeVos appears to center on her support for school choice and charter schools, both ideas that I don’t really have an objection to but which teacher’s unions are vehemently opposed to.

    I don’t think that’s the big objection, but let’s cover what you said first:

    Here in Michigan (where DeVos is from), I haven’t really noticed that much opposition to school choice. We’ve got it in our area, the parents seem to like it and haven’t heard anything from the teachers. The current evidence suggests that parents don’t necessarily make informed decisions, but when do any consumers truly make the best decision?

    As for charter schools, I think it’s easy to understand the objection – they get most of the same funding but only part of the responsibilities. (It’s not quite that simple, but that’s the union’s argument.)

    I think the big objection is that she wants to send your public dollar to private schools. As you know, private schools are basically free to do what they want, for example rejecting applicants based on some criteria. Or having reduced or no testing. I am perfectly fine with that, but unlike DeVos, I don’t expect the government to pay for such a privilege.

    Funding and accountability usually do, and should, go together. If a private school gets publicly funded, any added accountability is going to ruin whatever is special about that school. And it’s not going to make any sense – are you going to compare the standardized test scores of a private school for gifted children against some public school that must accept all children? So is DeVos against linking funding and accountability?

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  4. Scott says:

    It is not just teacher’s union but teachers. Most are non political like my wife but they are deeply insulted by the idea of a no nothing billionaire heiress in this job. And it is not just teachers but school boards and parents objecting. And this is in Texas where there are no teacher’s unions.

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  5. SKI says:

    The objection to DeVos appears to center on her support for school choice and charter schools,

    Uh, no.

    The principal objection is that she is manifestly unqualified and unaware of any of the actual issues the DoE deals with, most notably measuring quality and access to education for students with disability. Put another way, she doesn’t actually care about educating students who are in the public school system.

    As the father of special needs kids with IEPs, the prospect of her being invol;ved in eductaion is blood-boiling.

    Her ONLY qualification for head of DoE is that she is a wealthy heiress from a family that makes large political donations (including her personally donating to 5 of the 1`2 GOP votes that advanced her out of Committee).

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  6. SKI says:

    One more thing: If we start diverting money to private schools, we will need to massively increase the amount of taxes needed to fund schools.

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  7. grumpy realist says:

    The other complaint I’ve heard about private and charter schools is that they get to cherry-pick and make sure that they’re never on the hook for students with disabilities or behavior problems.

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  8. Mikey says:

    @SKI: So you just said everything I was going to say, a minor difference being I only have one child with an IEP. My wife and I were absolutely gobsmacked at DeVos’ utter ignorance of IDEA.

    Let’s also not forget her plagiarism of answers for her Senate questionnaire. I’m sure anyone who’s been through high school, not to mention college, is well aware what effect plagiarism has on one’s academic standing. Yet the GOP is set to confirm a plagiarist as the goddamn Secretary of Education.

    And have you seen Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, will be chairing the presidential commission on higher education? Does it get any more ridiculous? Holy shit.

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  9. Scott says:

    @Mikey:

    Let’s also not forget her plagiarism of answers for her Senate questionnaire

    In fairness to DeVos, I don’t think she personally plagiarized. I think she had an aide plagiarize and do her work for her.

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  10. SKI says:

    @grumpy realist: Absolutely accurate. It is a huge difference in being able to select the students you want to have both in terms of ability to educate in general and cost that will need to be spent to do so.

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  11. Franklin says:

    @SKI: “The principal objection is that she is manifestly unqualified and unaware of any of the actual issues the DoE deals with.”

    Oh, yeah, and THIS. (My earlier reply overlooked this more obvious objection.)

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  12. Franklin says:

    More in-depth coverage of charter schools can be found here. That article has a link to a pro-charter scholarly article, and rebuts or reanalyzes some of the points made. Feel free to read both sides, of course.

    My opinion is that many advocates were well-meaning, but practically it’s closer to a private school receiving public funds. (They have more government accountability than private schools, but less than any normal public school.)

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  13. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Franklin: No, it’s not closer, the charter school movement is exactly about using public funds to provide private schooling. More importantly, it is often times also about funding for profit private schools using public funds.

    And over the long term, they are no more effective than public schools eventhough they get to cherry pick their students.

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  14. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    Mpreover, even people who support expanding charter school opportunities think Betsy de Vos is incompetent to be Sec. of Ed.

    https://www.yahoo.com/news/m/6fd2bf22-feea-3196-855d-f41c72a38d87/betsy-devos-%26apos%3Bis.html

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  15. Mikey says:

    @Scott: Gotta feel pretty crappy when you pay someone to do your paper and they plagiarize…

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  16. rachel says:

    @Scott: It probably went something like this:
    DeVos: How do I get these people off my back? What do they want from me?
    Staffer: Probably something like this: (Shows answers given to the previous Education Department nominees.)
    DeVos: Sounds good to me. Run off a copy and I’ll sign it.
    Staffer: OK.

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  17. Franklin says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: I do not agree it’s exact. As I spelled out in my earlier post, they most certainly have more accountability (to the public) than any private school does.
    What I think is a bit insidious is the marketing ploy that they can’t choose their students … but they get away with doing it anyway through various means. And yet their results don’t match their inherent advantage. Curious.

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  18. Scott says:

    If you want to follow education, I would recommend Diane Ravitch’s blog http://dianeravitch.net

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  19. al-Ameda says:

    @grumpy realist:

    The other complaint I’ve heard about private and charter schools is that they get to cherry-pick and make sure that they’re never on the hook for students with disabilities or behavior problems.

    Exactly.
    Not to mention, a voucher (a gift of public money) represents tuition support for the private/charter school. If private/charter school finance officers know that parents will be given say, a $5,000 voucher, why wouldn’t the school increase tuition by, say, $5,000? No net change in cost for existing parent/students, and this keeps the cost high enough to keep others away.

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  20. Hal_10000 says:

    I think it tells you a lot about how Washington works that DeVos is drawing this kind of opposition but Sessions — who is much more dangerous — isn’t.

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  21. gVOR08 says:

    @Hal_10000: Schools are a lot closer to home for most people, and DeVos seems a deal more vulnerable than Sessions.

    And come to think of it, I’m not sure a closet racist as AG is really more dangerous than a closet Christian Reconstructionist as Sec. of Education.

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