Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of education, was approved by a Senate committee vote of 12-11 along party lines Tuesday morning, clearing the way for a floor vote on her nomination.
Though Democrats have aligned against DeVos because of her ties to far-right advocacy organizations, the Republicans hold a majority in the Senate, so she is widely expected to be approved.
DeVos, a longtime school choice advocate, comes from a family of Republican power brokers in Michigan whose net worth is estimated at $5 billion and who have long supported causes associated with the Christian religious right. Her family has given more than $200,000 to Republican senators on the Senate committee voting on her nomination, and nearly $1 million to 21 senators who will ultimately vote on her nomination when the vote goes to the full Senate.
DeVos’s confirmation process, like that of most of Trump’s nominees, has been rocky. At her confirmation hearing, DeVos did not appear to understand basic education terms and concepts. She said that years of tax forms that listed her as an executive at her mother’s right-wing foundation were a “clerical error.” And according to ranking committee Democrat Patty Murray, “she refused to answer basic questions about her finances.”
At one point during her hearing, DeVos said she didn’t support banning guns in schools, citing a later debunked example of defending students from grizzly bears in Wyoming.
And just a couple hours before the committee met to vote on DeVos’s nomination on Tuesday morning, the Washington Post reported that DeVos appeared to have used unattributed quotes in some responses to written questions from senators. Citing the Post’s report shortly before the vote, Murray said she was uncomfortable with the committee moving forward on DeVos.
Democrats also pointed to DeVos’s nonspecific answers to questions about civil rights and LGBT protections for students; Sen. Chris Murphy called her nomination “unprecedented,” while in turn Republicans such as Senator Richard Burr decried such remarks as “character assassination.”
Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, before voting to move DeVos out of committee, said that DeVos has “not yet earned my full support.” Murkowski said that “thousands” of Alaskans, for whom public schools are particularly critical, were in touch with her office about their concerns regarding DeVos’s nomination.