Update 2/1/17, 5:07 p.m.: Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said Wednesday that he’d vote for DeVos. As it stands, DeVos is on track to be confirmed as the next education secretary if Pence uses his vote to break the 50-50 tie.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) told colleagues Wednesday that they will not vote for GOP billionaire megadonor Betsy DeVos for education secretary, throwing her nomination in doubt just a day after a committee voted to advance DeVos’ bid to the full Senate.
With the GOP-Democrat split in the Senate at 52-48, “no” votes from Collins and Murkowski—and a party-line vote from Democrats—would tie the count at 50, leaving Vice President Mike Pence to cast the deciding vote. With one more dissenting Republican, however, Democrats would have officially defeated a Cabinet nominee for the first time since defense secretary nominee John Tower was voted down in 1989.
The two senators’ statements came as somewhat of a surprise given that both had voted in committee Tuesday to move DeVos’ nomination to the full Senate. But each had expressed reservations about DeVos’ support for school choice and voucher programs and her commitment to public education. “I have serious concerns about a nominee who has been so involved in one side of the equation,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor Wednesday, adding that her office had received thousands of calls from constituents concerned about DeVos.
DeVos has been the subject of criticism from teachers’ unions, Senate Democrats, and others for her defense of expanding charter schools and voucher programs, her inexperience in public education, and questions about her commitment to upholding federal civil rights laws, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. As my colleague Kristina Rizga recently pointed out in an in-depth investigation, DeVos and her family have donated millions of dollars to right-wing causes and conservative Christian groups.
DeVos’ vote before the full Senate has not yet been scheduled, though there was speculation Wednesday afternoon that the GOP would move quickly. Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters he had “100 percent confidence” that DeVos would be confirmed, adding, “I think that the games being played with Betsy DeVos are sad.”