This afternoon, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted along party lines today to move Betsy DeVos’ nomination for Secretary of Education out of committee and to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote, with all 11 Democrats voting against and all 12 Republicans voting in favor. Almost every Democrat’s remarks against the nomination raised the same concerns brought up in last week’s hearing––her lack of knowledge of basic education policies, her incomplete and ambiguous ethics and financial disclosures, and the lack of time to further scrutinize DeVos on these outstanding issues prior to the vote. It is not yet clear when the full Senate will take up the DeVos nomination but it is not likely to do so until at least next week.
The true headline of this vote, though, is that two Republican Senators stated that though they were voting to move the DeVos nomination out of committee, their votes in support of that nomination were by no means assured in a final floor vote. Senators Murkowski (R-AK) and Collins (R-ME) said that there were still numerous outstanding questions that DeVos must answer to earn a favorable vote, including Murkowski’s concerns about DeVos’s ommitment to public education and Collin’s issue with her lack of knowledge about special education laws. Their rationale for reporting DeVos’s nomination out of committee was to give the same deference to the President’s nominees as they have done in the past and to give the full Senate a chance to express their support or concerns with DeVos. It is worth noting that both Murkowski and Collins are among a handful of Republican Senators that did not support the school choice legislation introduced in the HELP committee over the last several years, something that DeVos has committed her life’s work to supporting.
During her remarks Collins stated that DeVoS’ “concentration on charter schools and vouchers raises the question of whether she appreciates that the Secretary of Education’s primary focus is helping … strengthen public schools.” She also cited continuing questions about her knowledge of federal law and policy, saying that she was “surprised and concerned with her lack of familiarity with IDEA.” In closing, she said that “will continue to evaluate this nomination as it comes to the floor.”
Murkowski’s comments were even more critical. Noting that she had spent more than 3 hours with Mrs. DeVos personally, attended the entire nomination hearing and reviewed DeVos’ responses to the committee’s written interrogatories, Murkowski said that she still has concerns about DeVos. She went out of her way to “acknowledge the thousands of Alaskans that have shared with her their concerns” about the nominee. She summed up her position by saying that DeVos “had not yet earned her full support.” Based on the tone and tenor of the comments, she seems far more likely than Collins to vote no in the final floor vote.
With Senate Democrats seemingly united in opposition to DeVos, Republicans have only a narrow margin for victory on the DeVos nomination. It will only take three defections for the DeVos nomination to fail. If both Murkowski and Collins vote no on the floor, Democrats are only one vote away from sinking this nomination.