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Both Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski voted to advance Betsy DeVos from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on Tuesday, while reserving their right to oppose her in a full Senate vote. (Photos: Collins/Fortune Live Media/flickr/cc + Murkowski/Arctic Wolves/flickr/cc))

People Power Works as Two Republicans Pledge to Vote 'No' on DeVos

Focus now moves to Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who could be pursuaded to vote against education secretary nominee

Deirdre Fulton

Just one more Republican "no" vote is needed to derail the confirmation of education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, after GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) announced Wednesday they would not support the billionaire in a full Senate vote.

No Democrats or Independents are expected to vote for the wealthy philanthropist, who has come under fire for her negligible relevant experience for the post overseeing the nation's K-12 public schools and higher education system. That means just three Republican defections could torpedo DeVos' bid. (In the case of a tie, Vice President Mike Pence would cast the deciding vote, almost certainly in DeVos' favor.)

Collins cited her "lack of experience with public schools" in a speech Wednesday on the Senate floor. According to The Hill, "Collins specifically pointed to DeVos's 'lack of familiarly' with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, saying she was 'troubled and surprised'." 

Murkowski, meanwhile, pointed to DeVos' ardent support for school vouchers and charter schools—which opponents describe as key cogs in the push toward education privatization—as reason for her opposition. "I have serious concerns about a nominee to be secretary of education...who has been so immersed in the discussion of vouchers," she said. 

Both senators specifically cited the thousands of emails and calls from constituents as part of their reason for voting no.

"Your activism works!" the National Education Association, which is campaigning hard against DeVos, wrote on Twitter.

Politico reported Wednesday:

The margin for DeVos narrowed significantly after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced he will oppose DeVos. Manchin has been mostly supportive of Trump's nominees but said DeVos has shown a lack of understanding for public schools.

"Betsy DeVos has never attended or worked in a public school. The needs facing rural schools in West Virginia are unique and her lack of exposure to public education is very concerning for me," Manchin said. "Every child in West Virginia deserves a quality education and I do not believe that Betsy DeVos is qualified to serve in this role, which is so vital to the future of our state."

Online, journalists and political observers suggested Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) could be persuaded to vote "no" on DeVos:

Other Republicans named as possible DeVos defections include Sens. Dean Heller (Nev.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.).

"Rural Republicans are most likely to oppose DeVos because their communities don't want vouchers or charters," public education advocate Diane Ravitch wrote online, pointing to Education Week's round-up of the GOP senators most likely to reject DeVos' nomination.

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