Today the Senate deadlocked 50-50 to confirm Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education — requiring VP Mike Pence to come to Capitol Hill and break the tie to make it 51-50 in favor of DeVos. It is the first time a VP had to break a tie to confirm a Cabinet member.
It only requires a simple majority (at least 51 votes) in the Senate to vote in a Cabinet position. Republicans have 52, so it should have been easy for DeVos to be approved, but two Republican Senators, Murkowski (AK) and Collins (ME) said they wouldn’t vote for DeVos.
Sen. Collins said DeVos had a lack of experience with public schools and would not be able to help challenges with rural schools in Maine. Sen. Murkowski said the same, saying she was concerned about the needs of public school programs in Alaska.
Another flashpoint with DeVos was her comment about IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)
[The IDEA is a federal law that requires schools to meet the educational needs of students with disabilities (including Deaf children). They must have access to a free and appropriate public education in the “least restrictive environment.” The IDEA requires disabled children to have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and empowers parents with educational decisions.]
DeVos said weeks ago (at the confirmation hearings) that thinks states should be able to decide if they want to enforce IDEA or not. She later wrote a letter — stating she was confused — but affirmed she would make IEPs stronger and advocated for children with disabilities to have school choices via vouchers.
DeVos is a strong activist for “school choice” — supporting charter schools (funded with public money but privately run) or voucher programs (taxpayer dollars are used to pay for private and/or religious schools.)
DeVos is a billionaire — her wealth comes from her family company Amway/Quixtar. She is a big GOP donor and a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party. Her brother is the founder of Blackwater/XE/Academi, the private security contractor that did a lot of work in Iraq.
Democrat Senators have worked hard to try and block DeVos’ confirmation, debating through the night in protest as they continued to jockey behind the scenes to try and get at least one more Republican Senator to change their vote.
But with VP Mike Pence’s power to break the Senate tie, Betsy DeVos is the Secretary of Education. She will start her term with a wave of fervent opposition against her, especially from people who work within the public school system.