Senate confirms DeVos as education secretary
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate has confirmed school choice activist Betsy DeVos as Education secretary, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie.
The Senate historian says it was the first time a vice president had to break a tie on a Cabinet nomination.
Two Republicans joined Democrats Tuesday to vote to derail DeVos' nomination. Democrats cited her lack of public school experience and financial interests in organizations pushing charter schools. DeVos has said she would divest herself from those organizations.
Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska fear that DeVos' focus on charter schools will undermine remote public schools in their states.
In an earlier tweet, President Donald Trump wrote "Betsy DeVos is a reformer, and she is going to be a great Education Sec. for our kids!"
DeVos, a wealthy Republican donor and longtime school choice advocate, has emerged as one of Trump's most controversial Cabinet picks. Labor unions have bitterly contested DeVos' nomination, fearing that she will undermine public education by promoting charter schools and publicly funded voucher programs for private schools.
Trump stood behind his nominee, accusing Democrats of fighting progress and change.
"Senate Dems protest to keep the failed status quo," Trump tweeted Tuesday before the vote. "Betsy DeVos is a reformer, and she is going to be a great Education Sec. for our kids!"
As they previously announced, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, opposed DeVos' nomination, while Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, supported it.
Brown said DeVos "made her career helping for-profit charters when Ohio is known as the 'wild, wild west' of for-profit charter schools."
"There shouldn't be a for-profit motive in education, because students are betrayed and taxpayers are fleeced," he said. During her nomination hearings, DeVos refused to commit to hold for-profit schools to the same accountability standards as public schools, Brown said.
Brown also expressed concern that DeVos had not paid $5.3 million in fines assessed by the Ohio Elections Commission in connection with a 2008 ruling that All Children Matter, a now-defunct political action committee directed by DeVos, violated state law by funneling $870,000 in contributions from its Virginia PAC to its unregistered PAC in Ohio. DeVos was not found personally responsible for payment of the fines.
Portman, meanwhile, said he supported DeVos in part because "I give deference to the president to put together a team."
He said the opposition to her nomination "became an issue well beyond Betsy DeVos."
"She is the most progressive advocate I've ever seen for local control," he said. "Even if you don't agree with me that she's going to be good with regard to innovation in public education - which I think she will, based on what she's said - she's not a threat to my school district. Because she believes that my school district - which is a great school district, by the way - ought to be able to make their own decisions. That's what local control means.
"This notion that she'll take this job and change your school district is not consistent with her history or her strong advocacy of local control."
During DeVos' confirmation process, Brown repeatedly called for DeVos to pay the Ohio election fines. In the House, Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Jefferson Township, joined other Ohio House Democrats in also repeatedly calling for her to pay the $5.3 million.
"It is abundantly clear that Betsy DeVos is woefully unqualified to head the U.S. Department of Education," Beatty said after the vote, claiming that DeVos' sole qualification "is being a well-connected, Republican mega donor." DeVos and her relatives have given at least $20.2 million to GOP lawmakers since 1989, including candidates, party committees, PACs and super PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Center found that DeVos alone gave Portman's two Senate campaigns some $7,800. DeVos has also contributed to Republican Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel's 2012 campaign for Senate. Mandel plans to run against Brown again next year.