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Searching for One More Republican, Resistance Launches Full Court Press to Derail DeVos

"Sometimes loyalty to a new president demands a bit too much," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

Betsy DeVos during the Senate Health, Education, and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to be next secretary of education. (Photo: Yuri Gripas / Reuters)

News that Betsy DeVos is advancing to her final confirmation vote to lead the Department of Education early next week has been met with pleas for one more "Republican with integrity" to step forward and reject the nominee.

In what has emerged in the most contentious confirmation battle yet, Republican senators on Friday voted to cut off debate and advance the billionaire charter-school lobbyist to the next round.

"Senators convened at the unusual, early hour—6:30 a.m. ET—because of Democratic stalling tactics that reflect their unhappiness with Trump's cabinet picks and the overall confirmation process," CNN reported.

Responding to massive public opposition to the nominee, two GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced this week they would not be supporting DeVos—joining Senate Democrats and Independents and bringing the total number of votes against her to 50. In the event of a tie, Vice President Mike Pence would be granted a deciding vote.

In turn, a handful of other Republicans deemed potential sway votes—such as Sens. Pat Toomey (Penn.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Deb Fischer (Neb.), and Rob Portman (Ohio)—have announced they will be supporting President Donald Trump's nominee, which would elevate DeVos into a position for which critics say she is unqualified, and in control of a public education system which she has actively worked to undermine.

Reportedly, the billionaire heiress and GOP donor "is reaching out to lawmakers and has been told by 50 Republican senators that they will vote for her Monday," her spokesperson Greg McNeilly told CNN on Friday.

However, the resistance remains undaunted. With a likely Senate vote planned for early next week, critics of DeVos are mounting a full court press on Republican lawmakers, particularly in rural states that have large bipartisan support for public schools.

According to the National Education Association, "senators have received more than 1 million emails and 50,000 phone calls opposing DeVos's nomination." Meanwhile, the American Federation of Teachers has vowed to lobby every senator who has not yet declared their support for or opposition to DeVos.

The New York Times reported Friday that "calls opposing Ms. DeVos so overwhelmed the Senate phone system that by [Thursday] afternoon, offices were having trouble gaining access to their voice mail messages."

Speaking on the Senate floor on Friday, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) implored his GOP counterparts to reconsider their vote.

"I would urge my colleagues over the weekend, those who have committed and those who have not, to look into their consciences," he said. "Sometimes loyalty to a new president demands a bit too much. With this nominee, it does. Please think about it. This person, Ms. DeVos, does not deserve to be secretary of education."

And despite his statement of support, "[p]rogressive activists see the next few days as their window for wearing down Toomey," the Huffington Post reported Thursday.

A New York Times editorial on Friday entitled, "Wanted: One Republican With Integrity, to Defeat Betsy DeVos," singled out Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) as another potential swing vote who could "rescue the country" from "one of President Trump's worst cabinet choices."

Alexander, who himself served as Education secretary from 1991-1993 and chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, "surely knows better than to place her in a job of such importance to the country’s future," the newspaper argues.

As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote this week: "If one more Republican comes around, we can defeat this very bad nomination. Let's hope that happens."

On Friday, the National Women's Law Center issued an urgent call to action, listing relevant phone numbers and urging residents of Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to call their lawmakers, stating: "If one more Republican opposes DeVos, her nomination will fail...your Senators can be persuaded to OPPOSE DeVos."

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