By Emmarie Huetteman
WASHINGTON - The Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos on Tuesday as education secretary, approving the embattled nominee only with the help of a historic tiebreaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence.
The 51-50 vote elevates DeVos - a wealthy philanthropist from Michigan who has devoted much of her life to expanding educational choice through charter schools and vouchers, but has limited experience with the public school system - to be steward of the nation’s schools.
Two Republicans voted against DeVos’ confirmation, a sign that some members of President Donald Trump’s party are willing to go against him, possibly foreshadowing difficulty on some of the president’s more contentious legislative priorities.
It was the first time that a vice president has been summoned to the Capitol to break a tie on a Cabinet nomination, according to the Senate historian.
The two Republicans who voted against the nominee, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced their opposition to her last week. In back-to-back floor speeches, the lawmakers said DeVos was unqualified because of a lack of familiarity with public schools and with laws meant to protect students, despite her passion for helping them.
Collins and Murkowski said they had also been influenced by the thousands of messages they had received urging them to reject the nomination.
Despite clamorous objections to DeVos from teachers’ unions and even some charter organizations that typically oppose them, opponents nonetheless fell shy of defeating her nomination. Most Republicans described her as committed and determined to put what is best for children above all else.
DeVos has focused on expanding parental choice in education and embracing charter schools, but also on vouchers that can allow students to use taxpayer dollars to pay tuition at private, religious and for-profit schools.
Story topics: education