Despite an overnight plea from Senate Democrats and weeks of intense lobbying from advocacy groups, Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz voted to confirm Betsy DeVos as Donald Trump’s education secretary on Tuesday.
Cornyn and Cruz never wavered in their support for the beleaguered DeVos, as fellow Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska broke party ranks to vote against her nomination.
“The major factor for me was Mrs. DeVos’ performance at her hearing,” Collins said after Tuesday’s vote. “Her lack of familiarity with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act...really troubled me. My husband had a son with severe disabilities and that law helped him reach his full potential. Now that she’s been confirmed I want her to succeed.”
The dissension required Vice President Mike Pence to break a 50-50 tie, bringing the final tally to 51-50.
DeVos, a noted school choice advocate and prolific political donor, gave $2.7 million in political gifts along with her husband during the 2016 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
DeVos’ brother Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, a military contractor that gained infamy after its employees fired into a crowd of people in Iraq, donated $100,000 to a super PAC that supported Cruz’s unsuccessful presidential bid.
“The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education is welcome news for students and parents in Texas and across our great nation,” Cruz said in a statement. “DeVos brings decades of remarkable experience advocating for policies and programs that empower families and remove barriers to academic choice. Most importantly, she will fight to take power away from the bureaucrats in Washington D.C. and return it to where it belongs – to parents and teachers back home in our local school districts.”
Cabinet secretaries are usually confirmed without significant opposition, but DeVos’ perplexing answers to questions during her confirmation hearing combined with pressure from liberal advocacy groups jammed the phone lines of many senate offices and convinced Collins and Murkowski to vote no.
But Cruz and Cornyn were not swayed by the pressure, and some conservative groups began urging Republican senators to support DeVos. Cruz said earlier this week that his office has “an army of people answering calls as fast as possible.”
Senate Democrats would have been able to stop DeVos had they not changed the rules three years ago to allow Cabinet nominees to be confirmed by a majority vote. In previous years, a filibuster-proof majority was required to confirm nominees, meaning DeVos endured the most stringent opposition of any successful Cabinet nominee ever.
“They know how this story ends, they know we are going to be successful,” Cornyn said of Senate Democrats. “With stunts like staying up all night and giving speeches I’m not sure who they are trying to impress other than their dysfunctional base.”
The Senate will now consider Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general, as they needed Sessions’ vote to confirm DeVos, and will likely begin to consider former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s nomination as secretary of energy next week. Perry is expected to be confirmed with some bipartisan support.
“My hope is we are going to be able to see them next week, before the recess,” said Murkowski, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, of Perry’s potential confirmation vote.