US Vice President Mike Pence (C) arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, February 7, 2017. The US Senate was poised to vote Tuesday on President Donald Trump’s choice for education secretary — Betsy DeVos, a deeply controversial billionaire champion of taxpayer-funded alternatives to public education. After debating through the night, the Senate scheduled a vote for noon (1700 GMT), with Vice President Mike Pence likely to step in to break a tie, in a rare intervention allowed under the US Constitution.
JIM WATSON / AFP
The US Senate confirmed billionaire heiress Betsy DeVos as the next secretary of education Tuesday, after Vice President Mike Pence cast a historic tie-breaking vote on the deeply controversial nomination.
The chamber deadlocked at 50-50, with two Republicans breaking ranks to oppose DeVos, a champion of using taxpayer monies to help fund privately run schools.
“The Senate being equally divided, the vice president votes in the affirmative, and the nomination is confirmed,” Pence said.
It was the first time a sitting vice president has ever voted to break a tie for a cabinet pick.
But Pence was needed to salvage DeVos’s nomination, which had triggered an outpouring of frustration and anger when President Donald Trump nominated the 59-year-old political scion from Michigan late last year.
Two moderate Senate Republicans, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, bucked Trump and opposed his pick, citing her lack of qualifications for the post that oversees thousands of schools, millions of school children and national curriculum standards.
Democrats were unable to convince another Republican to defect, despite an intense lobbying effort that culminated with an all-night Democratic talk-a-thon Monday night into Tuesday on the Senate floor.
Democratic Senator Patty Murray, a former pre-school teacher, said DeVos’s performance at last month’s confirmation hearing “underscored how unprepared she is to serve as secretary of eduation.”
DeVos, a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party, never attended public school or worked in the public school system.
Supporters praise the businesswoman and philanthropist as a fierce advocate of school choice, a US movement that seeks to use tax credits and vouchers to allow parents to opt out of the public school system in favor of privately managed charter schools for their children.
She is just the fifth of 15 cabinet members to be confirmed by the US Senate, along with CIA director and US ambassador to the United Nations, which are cabinet-rank positions.
The Senate next turned to a procedural vote Tuesday on the nomination of one of their own, Senator Jeff Sessions, to be the next US attorney general.