Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota has announced that all of his colleagues will vote unanimously against the confirmation of secretary of education nominee Betsy DeVos, as well as seek GOP defections against President Donald Trump's appointee. Three Republican senators would have to vote against DeVos to derail her path to heading the Department of Education.
On Jan. 26, Franken stated that Democratic lawmakers were unified against DeVos' nomination, asserting that she had not demonstrated the qualifications to head the DoED during her confirmation hearing.
"[DeVos] is someone that there's not going to be one Democratic vote for her, and we're trying to find Republicans who will vote against her because she's an ideologue who knows next to nothing about education policy as we demonstrated, or she demonstrated really, in her confirmation hearing," Franken told MSNBC.
The Minnesota senator added that to prevent DeVos' confirmation, Democratic senators would need defections from their Republican colleagues.
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"As you know, these nominees need 51 votes and we have 48, so we need some Republicans ... You will see a number of these nominees who virtually all of us [Democrats] will oppose ... I'm sure that's true of DeVos," Franken concluded.
There are no obvious Republican lawmakers on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions who appear likely to go against DeVos' confirmation. GOP lawmakers have praised the Michigan-based billionaire for her previous advocacy on school choice. Democratic lawmakers contend that DeVos' funding for school privatization and providing vouchers to low-income students does not expand choice but instead would gut the the U.S. public school system if applied on a national scale, The Washington Post reports.
On Jan. 17, Democratic lawmakers appeared frustrated by DeVos' answers during her confirmation hearing. Several of her answers became heavily circulated via viral videos, such as when she declined to rule out allowing guns in schools, appeared not to know that the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act was federal law, and declined to agree that all federally-funded schools should be held to equal standards.
Franken himself appeared displeased when DeVos did not appear to understand his question about emphasizing student proficiency or student growth, two different metrics that have been the basis for both the Bush and Obama administration's approaches to education reform.
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"It surprises me that you don't know this issue," Franken told DeVos after she appeared to conflate the two terms.
Senate Democrats had requested a second hearing for DeVos but were denied by the committee chairman, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Alexander asserted that DeVos had already been questioned during a lengthier period than either of President Barack Obama's two education secretary appointees, CNN reports.
Democratic lawmakers have reportedly been receiving an intense amount of consistent feedback about DeVos' nomination, according to Politico.
Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania has said his office has received over 50,000 letters and emails urging him to oppose DeVos' confirmation. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has received 5,700 phone calls and 838 letters expressing similar requests, while Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia has received 25,000 emails largely concerned about the DoED nominee.
A spokeswoman for Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said that their office has received a heavy volume of concern about DeVos, but that they have dismissed them because the majority of callers are from out of state.
On Jan. 26, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona asserted that he would back DeVos' nomination.
"Betsy DeVos believes that every child should have the opportunity to receive a quality education, regardless of their ZIP code," Flake said. "I look forward to supporting her nomination."
There are five members of the education committee to whom DeVos and her family members have previously provided campaign donations: Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Todd Young of Indiana.