For years, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state and Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee have built a record of working together to get Congress to pass bipartisan legislation, which has become something of a rarity on Capitol Hill.
But that all came crashing down Tuesday, when the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted 12-11 along party lines to approve Betsy DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist and conservative activist chosen by President Donald Trump to head the U.S. Department of Education.
Murray, the top-ranked Democrat on the panel, accused Alexander, the committee’s chairman, of moving too quickly, denying a request for a second hearing and not allowing Democrats enough time to conduct a thorough investigation into the billionaire’s finances.
“This nominee is being jammed through with corners being cut and with the minority being brushed aside, and I think it is absolutely wrong,” Murray said, adding that it would influence how she works with Alexander in the future.
This nominee is being jammed through with corners being cut and with the minority being brushed aside, and I think it is absolutely wrong.
Washington state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray
Alexander said Democrats were trying to delay a vote and asking for more vetting, even though they had already decided to vote against her.
“I believe their concerns are misplaced,” Alexander said.
I believe their concerns are misplaced.
Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander
Murray told Alexander she was “extremely disappointed and frustrated” by his move, saying it marked the first time that the panel had voted on a Cabinet nominee when a ranking member wanted more time to ask questions.
“We have been able to work together well for the past two years, and it’s because we have worked in good faith and across party lines to make sure we had what we needed to proceed,” Murray said. “You are justifiably proud of your record of accomplishments on this committee over the years. But by moving forward today, I consider this to be a massive break with that strong bipartisan record, and it will dramatically impact our ability to work together in good faith going forward.”
The duo’s parting of the ways came after they worked closely in the last Congress on legislation to change the controversial No Child Left Behind law, which forced schools to use standardized tests to show progress or else face penalties.
The Washington Post went so far as to describe their work as “bipartisan magic.”
Members of the panel said they had received thousands of phone calls and emails regarding DeVos, one of Trump’s most controversial nominees.
Murray called DeVos “a billionaire with extraordinarily complicated and opaque finances – both in her own holdings, as well as those of her immediate family.”
“And she has refused to answer basic questions about her finances,” Murray said.
Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts told her colleagues that “it is hard to imagine a candidate less qualified or more dangerous” to lead the Education Department.
Republicans said Trump deserved to have his education secretary confirmed quickly, with GOP Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina accusing Democrats of engaging in “character assassination.”
“Let’s give her a little bit of credit,” Burr said.
The full Senate will vote next on DeVos. Her nomination hit another potential roadblock Tuesday, when The Washington Post reported that DeVos appeared to have plagiarized quotes for a Senate questionnaire.