By the narrowest of margins, the U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Betsy DeVos to be the nation's new education secretary.A 50-50 deadlock over her confirmation was broken by Vice President Mike Pence who became the first vice president ever to cast a tie-breaking vote for a cabinet nominee.The vote to confirm DeVos came after Senate Democrats staged an all-night Senate talkathon Monday evening, a tactic to draw attention to their opposition to the Michigan billionaire who has no experience working, attending or volunteering at a public school.
About a year ago, then-candidate Donald Trump assured voters, "I am self-funding and will hire the best people, not the biggest donors!" Of course, in reality, the Republican was not self-funding, and as of this afternoon, the rest of the vow is falling apart, too.
Every Senate Democrat voted against DeVos, and they were joined by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Opponents of the nomination needed just one more no vote, but despite intense public pressure, every other Senate Republican -- including many who personally received contributions in years past from the GOP megadonor -- backed Trump's choice to lead the Department of Education.DeVos received more opposition than any education secretary in history -- the previous record was 40, which Obama's final education secretary, John King, received -- and this was the first time in Senate history a vice presidential vote was necessary to break a tie.Today's vote also clears the way for each of Trump's cabinet nominees to be confirmed -- because if Senate Republicans are willing to vote for Betsy DeVos, they'll vote for just about anyone.Circling back to our previous coverage, DeVos’ nomination was always tough to defend on the merits: the Republican activist has spent years crusading against public education and pushing for privatization though voucher schemes.The New York Times reported in November, “It is hard to find anyone more passionate about the idea of steering public dollars away from traditional public schools than Betsy DeVos.” Her only relevant experience in shaping education policy was DeVos’ role as one of the architects of Detroit’s charter-school experiment – which produced disastrous results.But her nomination grew far more controversial when DeVos appeared hopelessly lost and alarmingly uninformed during her confirmation hearing. The Michigan Republican had either spent no time preparing for obvious questions -- her ignorance about the basics of education policy was astounding -- or she simply couldn't remember what her handlers had told her to say. Either way, it became painfully obvious DeVos had no business leading the Department of Education.The GOP-led Senate confirmed her anyway.As for why DeVos seemed to generate more passion and activism than other, equally controversial nominees, I think there are a couple of intersecting developments here. First, with two Republican opponents, DeVos was the most vulnerable Trump nominee, which meant if the White House's critics were going to defeat any of the president's choices, it made sense to focus energies on the one who, at least in theory, could realistically be defeated.But don't underestimate the potency of education as an issue. Not only does every parent want good schools for their kids, but many communities worry about the future of local schools when a radical education secretary is hostile to their existence.That said, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank looked at this from an interesting perspective: "Democrats in the long run may thank the majority Republicans for confirming DeVos. In the fight against President Trump's agenda, the new administration's incompetence is their friend. Trump's choice of DeVos signals a dangerous desire to dismantle public schools. It would be more dangerous if he chose somebody who was up to the task."