By Michael Bowman
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking Senate vote Tuesday to confirm President Donald Trump’s education secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos. It was the first time in American history that a vice president has been needed to get a Cabinet pick approved.
Two Republicans voted with a united Democratic caucus in opposition to DeVos, a champion of allowing families to use public school funds to send their children to private schools, resulting in a 50-50 split before Pence cast the deciding vote as the Constitution mandates when the chamber is evenly divided.
“She [DeVos] will be an excellent education secretary,” said Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who served as President George H.W. Bush’s education secretary in the early 1990s. He argued that the school-choice initiative DeVos supports will bring competition to public education and put lower-income students on a more equal footing with those from well-to-do families.
“The idea that a low-income child should have the same opportunity [to go to a private school] that a wealthy family has would seem to me to be a very all-American idea,” the senator said.
“She [DeVos] is committed to improving our education system so that every child, every child has a brighter future,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.
Vice President Mike Pence presides over the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 7, 2017, during the Senate’s vote on Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos.
Democrats held the Senate floor for 24 consecutive hours ahead of the vote to argue against the education nominee and plead for at least one more Republican to join them in opposing her.
“Public education, from the very beginning of this country, has been at the root of that American idea that you can succeed despite any barriers of circumstance or birth,” said Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who noted that DeVos has described public schools as a “dead end” for many students.
“When you say that pubic schools are a dead end and then, as Ms. DeVos has, spend your entire career trying to empty out public schools and put kids into private schools, it hurts,” Murphy said, adding that he attended public schools in his youth. “Public education wasn’t a dead end for me – I get to be a United States senator.”
A wealthy businesswoman, DeVos has never been a teacher or a school administrator. During her Senate confirmation hearing, she said that guns might be needed at some remote schools to ward off grizzly bears, prompting expressions of disbelief and scorn from Democrats.
DeVos joins just four other Trump Cabinet nominees confirmed to their posts.
“More than two weeks into his term, President Trump has the fewest Cabinet secretaries confirmed at this point than any other president since George Washington,” McConnell complained. “The president deserves to have his Cabinet in place.”
Democrats are making no apologies for attempts to slow or derail Trump nominees.
“These are very exceptional times and they call for exceptional tactics, and probably [there will be] a few more exceptional moments on the floor of the Senate,” said Murphy.