Longtime conservative donor Betsy DeVos was confirmed in her role as secretary of the U.S. Department of Education Tuesday after a contentious battle in the U.S. Senate over her nomination.
The 51-50 confirmation went through when Vice President Mike Pence cast a historic vote on the matter, breaking a tie after Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) opposed DeVos. Pence is the first vice president in the country’s history to cast a tie-breaking vote for a cabinet nomination.
All 48 members of the Senate’s Democratic caucus voted against Trump’s education pick.
DeVos and her family foundations have spent millions supporting anti-choice Republicans and organizations, including fake clinics, also known as “crisis pregnancy centers,” which lie to patients about abortion care. Many of the U.S. Senators DeVos and her family helped fund voted Tuesday for her confirmation, including Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Tim Scott (R-SC).
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Democrats took to the Senate floor Monday for a 24-hour protest against DeVos, hoping to flip one more Republican. “In my mind, she is the least qualified nominee in a historically unqualified cabinet,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Monday on the floor. “On conflicts of interest, she ranks among the worst.
“For the vast majority of people across the country, public education isn’t just another issue. It’s different,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said. “We believe that a commitment to strong public schools is part of America’s core. The idea that every student, in every community, should have the opportunities that strong public schools offer. This is a notion that is embedded in our values. It’s who we are. It’s in our blood.”
Murray added that to these people, DeVos’ nomination was a “slap in the face” given the education policies she supports.
DeVos, an advocate for private and charter school vouchers, acknowledged during her hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) that she had never taught at or attended a public school.
Trump’s decision to nominate DeVos for education secretary created unprecedented backlash as education advocates, advocates for survivors of campus sexual violence, teacher’s unions, and constituents expressed dismay at her selection. Senate offices received 1.5 million calls each day last week, much of which had “been directed against Betsy DeVos,” Bloomberg Politics reported Monday.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) received more than 50,000 letters and emails in opposition to DeVos ahead of the HELP committee’s vote to advance her nomination in late January, his office told Politico.
Annie Clark, executive director of End Rape on Campus (EROC), told Rewire that DeVos had failed to answer many of the questions posed by the #DearBetsy campaign, a joint venture between EROC and Know Your IX, about how the nominee would respond to sexual assault and LGBTQ students.
During her HELP hearing, DeVos refused to commit to whether she would uphold the Obama administration’s guidance to colleges and universities on Title IX. With DeVos at the helm of the Department of Education, the Trump administration could move to roll back that guidance or eliminate the department’s Office of Civil Rights, which issued the guidance.