Well, it finally happened yesterday afternoon! After weeks of wrangling and personal smears which began to resemble the Clarence Thomas hearings, Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the next Secretary of Education. It was a real squeaker with Vice President Mike Pence casting the deciding vote that assures DeVos the cabinet seat.
Here’s how it went down, according to Richard Cowan of Reuters:
President Donald Trump’s choice of billionaire Betsy DeVos to be education secretary was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, but only after Vice President Mike Pence was called in to break a tie that threatened to defeat her.
The tie-breaking vote, which Senate officials said was unprecedented to confirm a Cabinet nominee, followed an all-night debate on DeVos as Senate Democrats tried to pressure at least one more Republican to oppose her and defeat the nomination.
Only two Republicans joined the 46 Democrats and two independents in opposition to DeVos. Critics have called her unprepared to lead the Department of Education after a rocky Senate confirmation hearing.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer immediately derided the proceeding.
“This cabinet nominee is so unqualified, so divisive, that @MikePenceVP had to drive down Pennsylvania Ave to cast the deciding vote,” he wrote in a Twitter post after the vote.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the vice president also serves as president of the Senate, with the power to cast votes only when there are ties on nominations or legislation.
Republican Trump tweeted his congratulations to the nominee and Pence praised her. “Today’s vote to confirm Education Secretary @BetsyDeVos was a vote for every child having a chance at a world-class education,” the vice president wrote in a Twitter post.
Ultimately, only Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined the Democrats and two independents in opposition to DeVos. That left 50 Republicans supporting her in the 100-member chamber.
In the past, Cabinet nominees played by Marquess of Queensbury rules and withdrew their name if a close vote was apparent. DeVos did no such thing.
As a long-time activist in the charter school movement, DeVos is anathema to the teacher’s unions and relentless public school advocates. And they tried just about everything they could think of to stop her nomination, fearing she would gut funding for public education.
But DeVos has a stellar reputation in the philanthropic world where the school choice/charter school movement began decades ago, based on the foundational belief many American children are not well-served by public schools – especially in poverty-stricken urban areas.
Incensed by her views, Democrats on the Hill let DeVos have it with both barrels:
As Monday night’s debate wound down, Schumer said of DeVos: “She disdains public education where 90 percent of our students are.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging her confirmation, said it was time to “end the unprecedented delay by Democrats” on the Cabinet nominations by Trump, who took office on Jan. 20.
Democrats have been dragging their feet on as many confirmation votes as possible. But after losing the fight to stop DeVos, they are likely to suffer another defeat later today or tomorrow when the Senate votes on the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General.
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