Senate lawmakers voted to advance the nomination of school-choice advocate and billionaire Betsy DeVos for secretary of education early Friday morning, setting up a final confirmation vote for President Donald Trump's embattled Cabinet pick early next week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., scheduled a rare 6:30 a.m. vote aimed at speeding up the process as Democrats made last-ditch efforts to scuttle the nomination. DeVos cleared the procedural hurdle by a 52-48 margin.
Related: Betsy DeVos through the years
Still, Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska announced their opposition to Devos earlier this week, imperiling her chances of being confirmed as Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate. If Democrats vote en masse against her, as it's expected they will, and are joined by Collins and Murkowski, Vice President Mike Pence would have to cast a tiebreaking vote for DeVos' to be confirmed, assuming no other Republicans defect.
As of now, that assumption is safe. Both McConnell and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have said they're confident DeVos will be confirmed. And a slate of potential GOP defectors – including Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Dean Heller of Nevada – signaled this week they intend to support her nomination.
That didn't stop Senate Democrats from continuing to blast DeVos early Friday morning.
"The more people learn about Betsy DeVos, the more they realize how wrong she is for our students and schools," said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee. "And the more that comes out about her failed record, her tangled finances and conflicts of interest, and her lack of understanding or experience – the more the pressure increases on Republicans to put their allegiance to President Trump aside, and stand with their constituents."
Democrats have slammed DeVos for her lack of experience in public education, highlighting the fact that she did not attend public schools, has never worked in a public school or as a public servant, and that her children did not attend public schools. They've also called into question her political donations to Republicans and millions of dollars in investments in education companies and other ventures, which they charge could present conflicts of interest should she be tasked with leading the Department of Education.
Republicans who support DeVos see her nomination as a chance to expand charter schools and bolster school voucher programs, which allow students to use federal funds to attend private schools.
"[DeVos] has spent her time working on giving children choices of schools other than public schools," Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican and chairman of the education committee, said Friday. Alexander himself served as education secretary under President George H.W. Bush. "It's always puzzled me as to why anybody would criticize that."
With her nomination all but locked up, grass-roots organizers who oppose DeVos plan to make a last-ditch effort over the weekend to flood congressional offices with phone calls from constituents who oppose DeVos.
Great Alaska Schools, for example, organized a daylong telethon Friday to jam the Juneau, Alaska, office of Sen. Dan Sullivan. They expect more than 1,000 calls will be made.
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