WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s selection for education secretary, billionaire mega-donor Betsy DeVos, appears to be his most embattled Cabinet pick, but Senate Republicans have largely held tight in their support.
Senate GOP leaders are confident they can squeak DeVos through the Senate with the support of 50 Republican senators Tuesday afternoon, plus a historic tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence.
“The point is we’re at a 50-50 moment where we only need one more senator to break and vote against Betsy DeVos and she won’t be confirmed, and so we want to make our argument up until the last minute to see if we can get that 51st vote,” Sen. Chris Murphy told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota Tuesday on “New Day.”
The surprise defection of two Republican senators last week — Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — coupled with an intense lobbying effort by liberal and Democratic groups has made DeVos the first of Trump’s Cabinet picks to face serious jeopardy.
DeVos’ poor performance in her confirmation hearing — punctuated by her suggestion that a school in Wyoming might want to have guns on premises to protect from grizzly bears — contributed to roaring anger among public school supporters and teachers unions. Even before her hearing, critics pointed to DeVos lack of experience with public schools and bankrolling efforts to support opposing ideas like school vouchers.
Murphy also said that DeVos seemed to have no knowledge of the federal law that protects students with disabilities.
“You put those two things together, lack of compassion for what’s happened to places like Sandy Hook and an inability to just understand the basic law around vulnerable students and it was clear at the end of that hearing that this was someone who shouldn’t be the secretary of education,” the Connecticut Democrat said.
Trump tweeted his support for his nominee Tuesday: “Senate Dems protest to keep the failed status quo. Betsy DeVos is a reformer, and she is going to be a great Education Sec. for our kids!”
Senate Democrats led on cheers Monday evening by protesters at the Capitol (and around the internet) of “Just one more!” — a nod to the fact they only need to win over another Republican senator to spike DeVos’ nomination.
“We may, in fact, have an additional Republican colleague voting ‘no,’ which would stop her tomorrow,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow told CNN’s Erin Burnett “OutFront” Monday.
DeVos’ Senate vote comes after a dramatic 24 hours of protest from Democrats inside and outside the Capitol that lasted through the night, into Tuesday morning, with Democratic senators taking shifts in the Senate arguing against DeVos.
Murphy said it’s unlikely that the Democrats are going to get the 51st vote, but are going to try until the last minute.
“I think Republicans have been very reluctant to break with Donald Trump in these first few weeks,” he said. “They’re not willing to challenge him on nominees that I think even they know in their heart of hearts aren’t qualified.”
“I think it’s because they’re trying to co-opt him to get their economic agenda done,” Murphy added.
The delay tactics have succeeded in stalling many of Trump’s most important Cabinet picks — but Senate Republican leaders promised Monday to get votes for four nominees this week: DeVos, Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price, Treasury pick Steven Mnuchin and attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Meanwhile, with each passing day, more questions have been raised about Trump’s Cabinet picks. Labor Department nominee Andrew Puzder admitted Monday to hiring an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper.
But Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn promised to overcome Democratic tactics with long hours at the Capitol — including the possibility of working through Saturday.
“We’ll be burning the midnight oil,” Cornyn said Monday.