President Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education is in jeopardy. Two key Republican votes in the Senate — Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski — have said they plan to vote against DeVos when her confirmation goes to a vote on the Senate floor.
Because no Democrats have yet indicated that they will vote for DeVos, this means that Vice President Mike Pence would have to break a 50-50 tie in order to get DeVos through the Senate; the Democrats need only one more Republican to jump ship in order to kill DeVos’s nomination entirely. Should her nomination fail, she would be the first Trump Cabinet nominee to be rejected by the Senate. She’s an advocate of school choice who has never worked in education.
Though White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said at a press briefing on Wednesday that he is “100 percent confident” that no other Republicans will join Collins and Murkowski, Capitol Hill chatter indicates otherwise. GOP senators said to be considering a “no” vote on Devos include battleground state Republicans like Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. Both have taken five-figure donations from the DeVos family.
The political activities of DeVos’s family are part of what have put her nomination in jeopardy. DeVos and her relatives — who with part of the $5 billion Amway fortune are GOP kingmakers in Michigan — have spent significant dollars on various right-wing political causes, including almost $1 million in total campaign donations to 21 senators who will be voting on the nomination.
Betsy DeVos’s political donations have gone to support efforts to redirect more public education dollars to charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools. Both Collins and Murkowski said DeVos’s attitude toward public education unnerved them during the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee deliberations about her nomination.
Though Collins and Murkowski ultimately joined their Republican colleagues in pushing DeVos through committee, the two left open the possibility of voting against DeVos on the Senate floor, citing thousands of constituent calls that expressed concern over what DeVos might do to the public schools on which the rural populations of Maine and Alaska rely.
In her initial testimony before the committee in January, DeVos displayed a startling lack of familiarity with education policy. At one point, she said she supported allowing guns in public schools because of a case in Wyoming where firearms were used to protect students from grizzly bears. This was later proven to be false.