The Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday narrowly confirmed Michigan philanthropist and GOP megadonor Betsy DeVos for secretary of education in an unprecedented 51-50 vote, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tiebreaking vote. It marked the first time in American history that a vice president, in his constitutional role as president of the Senate, has had to cast a tiebreaking vote for a president’s Cabinet nominee.
Despite deep opposition to most of Donald Trump’s Cabinet choices, like Senator Jeff Sessions to be attorney general, the resistance to DeVos surprisingly became the most fierce so far. She is the first and perhaps the only Trump nominee whom every Senate Democrat will vote against. In an effort to delay the vote, Democrats launched an all-night session of speeches Monday evening.
Two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, joined Democrats in their opposition, creating a 50-50 tie. Without a vote to spare, Senate Republicans were forced to schedule Sessions’ confirmation vote after DeVos’s so he could vote; if they’d confirmed him first, then DeVos would have lost 50-49.Democratic Senators seem to have fallen in line with their progressive base who have channeled their fervor against DeVos. While many of Trump’s picks like Dr. Ben Carson, hedge fund manager Steve Mnuchin, and Rep. Tom Price were controversial, DeVos suddenly became a lightning rod for the base’s rage after her stumbling confirmation hearing where she appeared to not know facts about federal education policy.
Her poor performance at the confirmation hearing made many progressives believe she was the most vulnerable nominee. “The fact that beating her would be the first serious defeat for Trump has mobilized lots of people,” Joe Dinkin, the communications director for the Working Families Party that started #ResistTrumpTuesday protests at congressional offices around the country, told VICE News.But Democrats were always at a disadvantage in their efforts to disrupt the nomination. In 2013, Democrats voted to change the Senate’s filibuster rules to decrease the required votes for cabinet nominees from 60 to 51. Since Republicans have 52 votes in the Senate, Democrats would have to persuade GOP Senators to deliver Trump an early defeat.But such institutional rules did nothing to dim the activism among the left. Before DeVos’s hearing, conversation on Twitter about DeVos was very small at only 85,000 mentions but suddenly shot up to 600,000 the day of her hearing and was up to 750,000 on Monday, according to Twitter. The progressive group CREDO saw 1.5 million people sign their anti-DeVos petition and share it 400,000 times on Facebook, by far the most signatures and shares they’ve ever had on any petition.Phone calls and emails against her flooded Senate offices. CREDO has coordinated nearly 100,000 calls, teachers union National Education Association reported that their members have sent over 1.1 million emails, and hundreds of protesters showed up at Senate offices around the country urging their Senators to vote no on DeVos. Senator Murkowski said the views of her constituents determined her vote against DeVos.The grassroots groundswell appears to have grown outside the turf of the Democratic National Committee. On Monday, the DNC blasted an email out in attempt to get its anti-DeVos petition up to a mere 200,000 signatures.