Two Republican senators announced on Wednesday they would oppose Betsy DeVos’s nomination for education secretary, presenting the first serious threat to one of President Trump’s Cabinet picks.
Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska each supported DeVos in a committee vote but said Wednesday afternoon they would vote no when her nomination reaches the Senate floor. Because Republicans have a slim, 52-48 seat majority in the Senate and every Democrat is expected to oppose DeVos, the defection of just one more GOP senator would sink her nomination. As it stands, Vice President Mike Pence would need to cast a tie-breaking vote to put her over the top, exercising a power that his predecessor, Joseph Biden, never once had to use in his eight years in office.
A former chairwoman of the Republican Party in Michigan, DeVos is a longtime donor to conservative candidates and education causes. She is a staunch supporter of expanding charter schools and private-school vouchers, positions that have drawn the aggressive opposition of teachers unions and liberal activists who have lobbied senators against confirming her. In a speech on the Senate floor, Collins cited DeVos’s inexperience with public schools and said she was “troubled and surprised” by the lack of familiarity DeVos displayed during her confirmation hearing with a landmark law guaranteeing education to students with disabilities. Under questioning from Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, DeVos at first said that it should be “left to the states” whether any school that receives federal funding, including charter and private schools, should have to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She clarified her position later on, saying she “may have been confused” about the federal law.