My Facebook’s least favorite Trump nominee appears to be the only one (for now) in actual danger of not being seated.
Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos looks like the first cabinet nominee this year to have bipartisan opposition to her in the Senate. Two Republicans – Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) – both women, both somewhat moderate, announced Wednesday that they would oppose DeVos’ nomination at final vote. Since Republicans have 52 votes in the Senate, which my public school education tells me means that they can’t afford to lose another.
This brings a tricky bit of business into play involving Jeff Sessions. Sessions is Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, but he also, for now, is a voting member of the United States Senate from Alabama. With the loss of Collins and Murkowski, Republicans need his vote to force a 50-50 tie (if all Democrats stay in line, which, miraculously, they seem to be). The tie would then be broken by Vice President Mike Pence in his role as President of the Senate. This hasn’t ever happened before when it comes to a cabinet nomination, but then again, lots of things that haven’t happened before occur with some regularity these days.
So, if Sessions is confirmed as Attorney General before DeVos gets her vote, Republicans would have only 49 votes to confirm her, which isn’t enough. DeVos’s cloture vote is expected to be taken Friday, which will be followed by 30 hours of debate and a final vote either this weekend or next week. So, in essence, Democrats are getting two for the price of one. They’re putting up a rare unified fight against a Trump nominee, and they’re inconveniencing Jeff Sessions.
Tthis is a good example of grassroots political activism at work. DeVos has drawn outrage from the Democratic rank-and-file in scope that far outweighs her rank in the Cabinet pecking-order (name four other Secretaries of Education – go! Exactly.) But there’s good reason to be skeptical of her ability to run the department, and Collins and Murkoswki echoed those skepticisms in their statements:
“Mrs. DeVos is the product of her experience,” Collins said. “She appears to view education through the lens of her experience promoting alternatives to public education in Detroit and other cities.”
Murkowski said she believed DeVos, a billionaire Republican donor and promoter of charter schools, has much to learn about public education.
“I have serious concerns about a nominee to be secretary of education who has been so involved on one side of the equation, so immersed in the push for vouchers that she may be unaware of what actually is successful within the public schools and also what is broken and how to fix them.”
To be fair, not particularly liking the work a cabinet department does isn’t much of a barrier to appointment these days – Rick Perry was picked to run an office he campaigned for president on eliminating. DeVos has a similar lack of qualification. She’s never worked in the public education system – not as a teacher, not as an administrator. She’d never even experienced public schools as a parent or a student.
She also seemed – even for this batch of nominees – uniquely ignorant of some of the more pressing issues involving the department she wants to lead, as evidenced by this exchange during her hearing:
I’ll be the first to tell you that elections have consequences. If Democrats wanted to name the Secretary of Education, they should have won. Donald Trump has the right to choose who he wants to run the Departments of his government, just like Democratic Senators have the right to oppose them. But is it too much to ask that competency matter? Or at least, an Education nominee that doesn’t have to cheat off of someone else’s paper? Or that cares about the mission of their department?
In fact, it seems that (aside from being a billionaire Republican donor) the biggest thing DeVos has in her favor is that she does fit the Republican approach to public education. For years, Republican orthodoxy has stressed “school choice,” and DeVos has given millions of dollars to alternatives to public schools. The subtext is a slow creep toward the privatization of education, a movement that follows a pattern where Republicans slash school funding, then hold up the impacts of those cuts as proof that public schools are – in DeVos’ own words – a “dead end.”
This support for alternative schools would help explain Murkowski and Collins’ opposition. “School choice” is one of those things that sounds good on paper, but is incredibly difficult to make a reality, especially in rural areas of, say, Alaska and Maine.
For now, Democrats have a few more days to try to pick off one more Republican vote. Names that have come up as being targets include Dan Sullivan, also of Alaska, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Jeff Flake of Arizona. It’s a long shot, but we’ve already come a long way. Murkowski specifically referenced communication with her office as critical in her reaching her decision.
told ADN that “her offices had received an explosion of calls in the past week, almost entirely about DeVos until Sunday night when calls started to come in about Trump’s immigration ban.”Murkowski’s staff estimated that roughly 30,000 calls came into her offices over the past week. The senator
“It’s just been overwhelming,” said Murkowski. “We’ve never seen a level of calls like this ever.”