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Mike Pence is set to make history with a tie-breaking vote for Betsy DeVos

Never before has a sitting vice president cast the decisive vote for a cabinet nominee.

CREDIT: David Swanson/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP
CREDIT: David Swanson/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

When President Donald Trump announced Betsy DeVos as his nominee for Secretary of Education, most news outlets reported that her confirmation was almost inevitable. However, Betsy DeVos’ confirmation process has been anything but normal for a Secretary of Education — typically a noncontroversial cabinet pick.

From holding her confirmation hearing before her ethics review was complete to denying Democratic Senators more time for questions during and after her hearing, Senate Republicans have repeatedly ignored precedent to quickly advance her nomination.

On Tuesday, there’s set to break tradition yet again. That’s when Mike Pence will likely become the first Vice President in history to cast a tie-breaking vote for a cabinet-level nominee.

In recent history, the tie-breaker has been used sparingly. In fact, Vice President Joe Biden left office on January 20th having never used that power. Additionally, with this vote coming just 18 days into the Trump presidency, it will be the earliest tie-breaking vote cast by a Vice President since Congress and the Presidency were established in 1789.

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There’s a reason why Republicans probably can’t confirm DeVos without the vice president’s help. After her confirmation hearing — during which she revealed a startling lack of knowledge and preparation — opposition to DeVos has grown beyond the norm for a Secretary of Education.

Civil rights, education, and disability groups have called on Senators from both parties of the aisle to vote against her confirmation, citing her lack of commitment to enforcing federal education laws and protecting the rights of all students. Teachers and students alike have mounted protests and demonstrations against her nomination. Senate offices have been flooded with thousands of calls, emails, and letters opposing DeVos.

On Wednesday of last week, Senator Collins (R-ME) and Senator Murkowski (R-AK) joined all 48 Democratic Senators in bipartisan opposition to Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, leaving her once-certain confirmation up for debate.

Despite the public outpouring of opposition, a third Republican Senator has not yet come out publicly against Betsy DeVos’ nomination, leaving the vote count at a 50–50 tie. In the case of a stalemate in the Senate, the Vice President of the United States has to power to cast the tie-breaking vote.

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In the face of resistance from Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans have already taken several unheard-of measures to advance several of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees.

On Wednesday, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee suspended a rule requiring at least one member from each party to be present for a vote so they could move Trump’s nominees for Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and Health and Human Services Secretary, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to the full Senate floor. On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works took the same action to push through Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

At the same time, Republicans are holding off on the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as Attorney General in order to keep him in the Senate long enough to vote for Trump’s other nominees.

But none of those maneuvers have made history in the way a tie-breaking confirmation vote from Pence would. That would be a radical move, and a clear sign that Republican senators will keep taking unprecedented steps to confirm Trump’s cabinet.

Kami Spicklemire is the Campaign Manager for Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at the Center for American Progress.