Update, 12:30pm EST:
The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary (roll call here), with Vice President Mike Pence casting the historic tie-breaking vote.
DeVos' vocal opponents said the razor-thin margin reflected DeVos' lack of relevant qualifications and—as with many of President Donald Trump's cabinet nominees—fundamental disconnect with the department she was picked to lead.
“It's telling that even when Trump had full control of the legislative and executive branches, he could only get DeVos confirmed by an unprecedented tiebreaking vote by his vice president," said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. "That's because DeVos shows an antipathy for public schools; a full-throttled embrace of private, for-profit alternatives; and a lack of basic understanding of what children need to succeed in school."
"Betsy DeVos has never been a student, parent, supporter, or employee in a public school or school system in any capacity, and yet she is now tasked with ensuring our nation's children have equal access to a quality education," added Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The fact that her confirmation vote was the first in American history to require a tie-breaking vote by the vice president speaks to the widespread concern about her qualifications raised by the civil rights community, concerned parents, and educators from across the country."
"DeVos'devotion to right-wing ideology and disregard for public education have no place in our education system," said Heidi Hess, senior campaign manager at CREDO Action. "She is grossly incompetent and lacks the basic knowledge to preside over an agency whose primary job is to make sure our children have access to exceptional primary and higher education. It's appalling that 50 Senate Republicans chose partisan politics and Trump's fascist agenda over the education of America's children."
With the vote currently standing at 50-50, it's likely that Vice President Mike Pence will cast the deciding vote in DeVos' favor. Still, Democrats and Independents kept up their search for one more Republican willing to flip their vote—holding the Senate floor for 24 hours in an effort to make their point.
"The point is we're at a 50-50 moment where we only need one more senator to break and vote against Betsy DeVos and she won't be confirmed, and so we want to make our argument up until the last minute to see if we can get that 51st vote," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told CNN's "New Day" on Tuesday.
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During their overnight talk-a-thon, senators pointed to the GOP mega-donor's dismal confirmation hearing performance; her support for unregulated charter schools and private school vouchers; and her "complete lack of knowledge" about a major federal special education law as reasons to oppose her confirmation. Many senators mentioned the overwhelming number of calls they've received from constituents urging them to vote against DeVos.
We must support public education, not allow billionaires to make money privatizing it. We need 1 vote to defeat DeVos' dangerous nomination.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) February 7, 2017
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) called DeVos' nomination "an insult to schoolchildren and their families," while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said "it is difficult to imagine a worse choice" to oversee the nation's K-12 public schools and higher education system.
The Hill reports that Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said DeVos was "unable to answer basic questions" during her confirmation hearing.
"She wasn't reluctant to declare her opinion. She wasn't trying to strike a middle ground. She did not know what I was talking about," Franken said, calling it "one of the most embarrassing scenes" he's seen since joining the Senate.
"I believe it may have been one the most embarrassing performances by a nominee in the history of the United States Senate," he said on Monday night, referencing in particular DeVos' inability to explain the difference between proficiency and growth. "We would not accept a secretary of Defense who couldn't name the branches of the military. We wouldn't accept a secretary of State who couldn't identify Europe on a map."
Warren also argued that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), President Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, should not be permitted to vote on a fellow cabinet nominee. News outlets report that senators will likely hold a cloture vote on Sessions' nomination on Tuesday following the DeVos vote; the final decision on Sessions would come Wednesday.
"Now with at least 50 senators...publicly opposed to this nomination," Warren said of DeVos, "the Republican leadership has rigged the vote so that Sen. Sessions can drag her across the finish line just before he is confirmed as attorney general."