After a 24-hour standoff in the Senate, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as U.S. secretary of education in an historic vote on Tuesday. She will now lead the U.S. Department of Education.
With all but two Republicans voting in support of DeVos, the Senate was evenly split, with 50 votes in favor of her confirmation and 50 votes opposed. With this tie, Vice President Mike Pence was able to exercise the rarely used power of his office to cast the deciding vote in a Senate decision; the event marked the first time in history that such an action was taken regarding the swearing in of a cabinet member.
All 46 Democrats and both of the Independents in the Senate voted against DeVos, whose inexperience in education and support of charter schools made her one of the most fiercely opposed of all of President Donald Trump’s cabinet picks. The Democrats held the Senate floor for much of the day Monday and into the night proceeding Tuesday’s vote, voicing their opposition to DeVos’ appointment.
DeVos has also faced intense criticism from teachers’ unions, parent groups, and civil and human rights organizations. Her staunch support of charter and private schools has led many to question her dedication to public education. Similarly, her role as a billionaire donor to the Republican party, along with her lack of experience in both the classroom and the administrative side of education, have caused many to be critical of her qualifications.
DeVos’ confirmation hearing on January 17 received much public attention after she appeared unprepared to answer many of the questions posed to her by Democrats, including inquiries into her stance on funding for higher education. Though much of the hearing focused on K-12 issues, Democratic senators also grilled the nominee on whether she would enforce certain federal regulations for institutions of higher education.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren questioned DeVos’ ability to lead the Department of Education — the nation’s largest provider of student loans — considering that neither she nor any of her children had ever taken out a student loan or attended a state college. Warren also criticized DeVos’ unclear responses to questions regarding her willingness to enforce federal regulations like the gainful employment rule and ensure oversight of for-profit colleges.
DeVos has also been criticized for her opposition to affirmative action policies and LGBTQ rights. In her confirmation hearing, she asserted that decisions regarding how to protect students with disabilities and others from discrimination should be left up to the states rather than the federal government.