WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — The Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos on Tuesday as the nation’s newest education secretary, approving the embattled nominee with a little help of a historic tiebreaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence.
DeVos, a wealthy donor from Michigan, has dedicated much of her life to expanding educational choice through charter schools and vouchers, but has severely limited experience working with the nation’s public school system.
Two Republicans voted against DeVos in the 51-to-50 vote, a telling sign that members of the president’s party are willing to turn against him. It was the first time in history that the vice president had been summoned to the Capitol to break a tie on a Cabinet nomination, according to the Senate historian.
Taking the gavel with the vote deadlocked at 50-50, Pence, a former member of the House of Representatives, declared his vote for DeVos before announcing President Trump’s nominee for education secretary had been confirmed.
The two Republicans who voted against DeVos’ confirmation, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced their opposition to her last week. In back-to-back floor speeches, the lawmakers said DeVos was unqualified because of a lack of familiarity with public schools and with laws meant to protect students, despite her passion for helping them.
Collins and Murkowski also said they were influenced by the thousands of messages they received from constituents urging them to reject the nomination.
For several in the education community, DeVos’s support for charter schools and vouchers — which allow students to use taxpayer dollars to pay tuition at private, religious and for-profit schools — signals her disconnect from the realities of the education system. Neither DeVos or any of her children attended a public school, and she has never taken out a federal student loan.
Now, she will head the country’s largest provider of student loans.
In a speech moments before the vote, Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and a former education secretary himself, lashed out at Democrats for opposing DeVos’ nomination, saying they were only doing so because DeVos was nominated by a Republican president. Alexander said she had been “at the forefront” of education overhaul for decades. “She led the most effective public school reform movement over the last few years,” he said.
Shortly after DeVos’s confirmation, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union that protested the nomination, said the public would now have to “serve as a check and balance” to her policies and be “fierce fighters on behalf of children.”
“It’s telling that even when Trump had full control of the legislative and executive branches, he could only get DeVos confirmed by an unprecedented tiebreaking vote by his vice president,” Weingarten told the New York Times. “That’s because DeVos shows an antipathy for public schools, a full-throttled embrace of private, for-profit alternatives, and a lack of basic understanding of what children need to succeed in school.”
Information from the New York Times contributed to this report.