Senate Committee Votes to Move Betsy DeVos Nomination Forward

Policy & Government

Senate Committee Votes to Move Betsy DeVos Nomination Forward

By Jenny Abamu     Jan 31, 2017

Senate Committee Votes to Move Betsy DeVos Nomination Forward

In what some called a “bizarre” voting session this afternoon by a Senate committee, Betsy DeVos—a vehement school choice advocate and President Trump’s nominee for secretary of education—was given the green light to move her confirmation forward.

The scene took place at a Tuesday morning session of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, known as HELP. The vote couldn’t have been much closer: The 12-11 vote was evenly split along party lines, with Republicans on the committee unanimously voting in support of the Michigan billionaire. Her nomination now goes to the Senate floor for a final confirmation.

Before the vote, the chair of the committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) declined to take more questions, claiming that Democrats submitted 1,400 additional questions to DeVos, a number he says is 25 times the amount of questions President Obama’s nominees received. Democrats complained, though, that responses to the majority of their questions were insufficient or not returned to them until the night before the vote. According to the Washington Post, several of DeVos’ answers to questions submitted by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) were possibly copied and pasted from other sources without citations.

In spite of general party unity, some Republican senators cast their vote to move DeVos forward with stated apprehension. Both Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.) expressed reservations in their statements, citing DeVos’s support of school choice, charter schools and lack of system knowledge as “cause for concern.” Both hinted at a possible “nay” vote on the Senate floor, citing past instances where they moved nominees forward in the committee but reneged their support on the floor. “There remain other questions of Mrs. DeVos’ knowledge of certain federal education laws… I was surprised and concerned about Mrs. DeVos’ apparent lack of familiarity with the landmark 1975 law IDEA that guarantees and free and appropriate education for children with special needs,” said Sen. Collins.

Sen. Murray, citing President Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, proposed an amendment right before the vote calling for all future appointees to disclose three years of tax returns to the HELP Committee before hearings. The bill failed to pass as Republicans voted against the measure.

The DeVos vote had been delayed for a week to give senators on the committee the opportunity to review her Office of Government Ethics Report—including her finances and potential conflicts of interest, excluding her tax returns.

There was some drama at the end when Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) voted by proxy, a move Senate Democrats pointed out violated the committee rules, causing the two-hour hearing to be stretched with calls for re-votes and confusion over the rules and precedence set by the committee chair, Sen. Alexander. The re-vote, predicated on precedent and standards established by the clerk and committee chair, yielded the same 12-11 vote to move DeVos’ confirmation forward.

Tweeting this morning, Devos emphasized her enthusiasm about the vote: “Honored to earn your support @GOPHELP & @SenAlexander! If confirmed I look forward to fighting for quality education for all students.”

The National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country, issued a statement saying, “The fight isn't over.” Before the vote, the association said that more than 1 million emails were sent to senators through its website urging them to vote against DeVos.

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