Betsy DeVos is one ‘no’ vote away from defeat

Two Republican defections mean that Trump’s education pick is in serious jeopardy.

President-elect Donald Trump, left, applauds after his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, right, finishes speaking at a rally at DeltaPlex Arena, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Grand Rapids, Mich. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
President-elect Donald Trump, left, applauds after his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, right, finishes speaking at a rally at DeltaPlex Arena, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Grand Rapids, Mich. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

On Wednesday, two Republican senators announced they will vote against Betsy DeVos on the Senate floor — meaning that only one more Republican needs to defect in order for Trump’s pick for Education Secretary to go down.

Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Lisa Ann Murkowski (R-AK), who are on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, voted Tuesday to advance DeVos nomination to a full Senate vote on Tuesday, but said their votes were not guaranteed to go toward DeVos. On Wednesday, both senators announced that they would vote against DeVos during the full Senate floor vote.

Assuming all other Republicans vote for DeVos and all Democrats vote against, that means the vote breakdown is currently tied at 50–50.

Every Democrat on the HELP committee voted against DeVos on Tuesday. Both Collins and Murskowski said they were concerned about DeVos’ lack of knowledge on basic education policy issues. Collins said her inexperience was one reason to vote against her.

“I’m concerned that Mrs. Devos’s lack of experience with public schools will make it difficult for her to fully understand, identify and assist with those challenges, particularly for our rural schools in states like Maine,” Collins said.

Murkowski said DeVos had “a lot to learn.” DeVos showed a serious misunderstanding of a major education law during her hearing, suggested guns were necessary in schools to ward off grizzlies, and appeared to have plagiarized some of her answers to Senators on the HELP committee.

Murkowski said she was particularly focused on how DeVos’ school choice vision would work for rural communities, which are not always well-positioned to benefit from school choice plans. Removing students from rural public schools, where there are too few students already, further reduces the skimpy funding these districts receive.

On Tuesday, Murkowski said she wanted to make sure that homeless students and other disadvantaged groups were served appropriately by their schools, and was still trying to determine whether DeVos would ensure these students were protected.

Explaining her decision to vote against DeVos on Wednesday, Murkoski said she had received thousands of calls from constituents urging her to oppose the confirmation.

Now the anti-DeVos camp needs one more vote in order to defeat her nomination. That vote could come from one of the other rural, anti-voucher Republicans, Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa wrote. Some of these senators include Sen. Shelley Moore (R-WV), Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE). Heller has not yet said which way he is leaning.

The vote count also depends on whether Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is confirmed as attorney general by the full Senate. If he is confirmed prior to the DeVos vote, his seat in the Senate will be left vacant.

This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Sen. Heller is publicly undecided regarding DeVos.