Betsy DeVos’ nomination passed the Senate Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, even though there was a lack of real support. She will now advance on to the full senate and their vote. The secretary of education nominee was narrowly approved by a vote of 12-11. All 12 Republican senators on the Health, Education, Pension, and Labor Committee voted yes, and all 11 Democrat senators voted no.
The vote was preceded by a fiery debate, with two GOP senators making it known that there was no guarantee that they would vote yes once it was brought before the full senate. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska both had concerns about DeVos’ preference for charter schools and school choice.
Murkowski voiced her concern for her constituents who live in rural areas and do not have access to charter schools. She also said that her office has received calls and visits from thousands of Alaskans who had questions about the nominee.
Collins made it clear that she believes DeVos cares for children, spoke of her devotion, and time she has put in to help improve the education of children who are at risk. However, Collins expressed worries that Devos may overlook her responsibility to public education due to her favoritism of school choice. Collins’ apprehension was so strong that she wanted, in writing, DeVos’ assurance that she would not back a federal mandate or withhold federal funding from states who do not have a voucher program. Collins said that DeVos did comply with her request.
The senator also found the nominee’s lack of knowledge about the 1975 Individuals with Disability Act worrisome. The act, considered by many to be a milestone in education reform, guarantees the right to a free and befitting education for children with disabilities.
The concerns of the two Republicans on the committee and their non-commitment to approve DeVos on the senate floor shows the lack of real support the nominee has. DeVos has yet to earn the two woman’s full support.
DeVos’ nomination has been highly contested by Democrats. The Michigan native, who comes from a billionaire family that has donated millions of dollars to members of congress has been considered the most contentious nominee in the history of the department of education. The vote in the committee was at first scheduled to be held last week, but lawmakers requested a delay so that they could scrutinize the paperwork Devos turned in to the Office of Government Ethics. Democrats also requested a second chance to question her after issues over her finances came up. The request was denied.
Democrats put forward 800 additional questions to DeVos after her hearing earlier this month. All the questions were answered by Monday. Complaints from Democrats still continued, though, as they asserted that the answers were not detailed enough. Patty Murray, D-Ill., asked once again for a postponement of the vote. She cited lack of information from DeVos about her finances, remaining questions about conflicts of interest, and other issues.
DeVos’ nomination has drawn concern from civil rights and progressive groups, as well as Democrats. Distress seem to be focused on the fact she has never formally worked in public education and has been very vocal in her opposition to teachers unions. Civil rights groups are questioning her ability to protect an education system that provides an equal opportunity for all.
After, what some would consider, a dismal performance at her confirmation hearings, the opposition to her nomination only grew larger. Protests against the nominee were seen around the country. CREDO Action circulated an anti-DeVos petition, on which they collected 1.4 million signatures.
DeVos is not without her supporters. Chairman of the committee Lamar Alexander, a Republican, backs the nominee. He believes that Democrats’ concerns are misplaced, and thinks that DeVos may be the most questioned nominee for secretary of education in its history.
Democrats are looking to add Republicans to the 48 Democrat’s votes they have against DeVos. They need 51 votes to stop her from being confirmed. With two senators from President Trump’s own party showing a lack of real support for DeVos’ nomination, they may succeed.
By Jessica Hamel
Edited by Cathy Milne
The Huffington Post: Betsy DeVos’ Nomination Clears Senate Committee, Despite Staunch Democratic Opposition
The Washington Post: Two Republican senators say they aren’t committed to voting for Betsy DeVos on Senate floor
Chicago Tribune: Betsy DeVos’ education nomination advances to full Senate
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