The Senate voted to confirm Betsy DeVos as President Donald Trump’s secretary of education on Tuesday, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote.
Pence’s vote was the first time a vice president broke a Senate deadlock on a Cabinet nomination in U.S. history.
The Senate tied on the vote after two Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME), voted against DeVos. Four years ago it would have taken 60 votes to confirm her to Trump’s cabinet, but that threshold was lowered to 51 votes after former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) changed the rules in 2014.
Republicans were inundated with calls from constituents and interest groups urging them to vote against DeVos’ confirmation. In a last-ditch messaging effort, Democrats spent the 24 hours before the vote speaking against DeVos on the floor in an organized talkathon.
Protesters gathered in Upper Senate Park at the Capitol on Monday calling on Senators to reject DeVos. (Bill Clark/AP)
DeVos, a Republican donor and charter schools advocate, proved to be one of Trump’s most controversial cabinet nominees. She has never taught at or even attended a public school, and faced criticism from Democrats and labor unions who accused her of seeking to dismantle public education and divert funds to charter schools.
Her January confirmation hearing was delayed nearly a week at the request of Senate leadership, and an aide to Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said the senator hoped DeVos would use the additional time to “complete the required ethics paperwork.”
Despite this, it came to light days later that DeVos initially failed to disclose a $125,000 donation to an anti-union group ahead of her hearing, an omission which came amid protest from Democrats who accused the Trump transition team of rushing the confirmation process.
During the rocky confirmation hearing itself, Murray pressed DeVos to commit to avoiding conflicts of interest and not engaging in political contributions if she was confirmed, and noted that the committee still did not have her ethics paperwork.
DeVos was roundly mocked for citing “potential grizzlies” as a reason to allow firearms in schools.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 18, 2017
“I think that’s best left to locales and states to decide,” she said.
When pressed to say “definitively” whether guns should be allowed in schools, DeVos cited an elementary school in Wapiti, Wyoming, with a fence to protect students from wildlife.
“I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies,” she said.
Asked whether she thinks schools should be required to comply with the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), DeVos appeared ignorant of the law.
“Were you unaware when I just asked you about the IDEA that it was a federal law?” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) asked DeVos.
“I may have confused it,” she replied.
She also appeared unaware of the difference between assessing students’ proficiency versus growth.
Sen. Al Franken discovers Trump Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos doesn’t know the difference between proficiency and growth. pic.twitter.com/QFQchwHhuc
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) January 18, 2017
DeVos also apparently lifted entire phrases and sentences from sources without attribution in her written responses to a questionnaire from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, as flagged by the Washington Post.