Billionaire Betsy DeVos has been confirmed for secretary of education following a historic tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence. DeVos' nomination was unanimously opposed by Senate Democrats and her deciding vote was the first time a vice president has had to break a tie for a Cabinet nominee in U.S. history.
On Feb. 7, the Senate was deadlocked on the confirmation of DeVos, with all 48 Democratic senators opposed. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine had also voted against the Michigan-based billionaire's confirmation, resulting in a 50-50 split in the Chamber. The deciding vote was cast by Pence, who had predicted on Feb. 5 that his intervention would be necessary.
"It would be my high honor to cast the deciding tie-breaking vote on the floor of the Senate," Pence told Fox News.
DeVos' nomination had been heatedly contested in the Senate. On Feb. 6, Democratic lawmakers began a 24-hour filibuster against her confirmation vote, urging for just one more of their GOP colleagues to break from President Donald Trump and vote against his education secretary nominee. None of the Republican senators obliged.
Democrats opposed DeVos due to her advocacy as a GOP donor in Michigan for private and religious vouchers that would draw funding from public education. DeVos had also advocated for charter schools, which are less regulated than public institutions. She has never worked for or attended a public school.
"I can't say it enough: A vote for Ms. DeVos is a vote to destroy our public school system," said Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico on the chamber floor, reports The Washington Post.
Republican lawmakers have asserted that DeVos' lack of experience in public education and her advocacy for charter schools would provide a fresh perspective in the Department of Education, providing low-income students with more school choice.
On the floor, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas praised DeVos for not being "another bureaucrat that knows all the acronyms and knows that arcana known to people who have been brought up within that establishment."
Videos of DeVos' performance during her confirmation hearings became viral on social media, fueling constituent opposition towards her.
"The more people who watched her performance in that hearing, the more they see how ill-equipped DeVos is to do the mission, the more outraged regular Americans have gotten," Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, told NPR. "DeVos is the least qualified, the most ill-prepared and the most hostile to public education of anyone who's ever had that role."
During her confirmation hearing, DeVos had cited grizzly bear encroachment near Wyoming schools as justification for allowing guns in education facilities and appeared unfamiliar with the federal law titled Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which places protections for students with special needs.
"You put those two things together, lack of compassion for what's happened to places like Sandy Hook and an inability to just understand that basic law around vulnerable students and it was clear at the end that this was someone who shouldn't be the secretary of education," Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut told CNN.
Laura Friedenbach, the press secretary for campaign finance reform nonprofit Every Voice, asserts that many of the Republican senators who voted for DeVos should have recused themselves because she and her family had previously donated to their campaigns.
The DeVos family has been among the biggest donors to the GOP. For example, the Center for American Progress found that the DeVos family has donated $98,300 to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who was among those who voted to confirm the education secretary.
"The after-effects of the widespread public backlash to her nomination will linger," Friedenbach said of DeVos. "People are tired of a government that works best for the wealthiest among us ... rewarding a big donor with a Cabinet position will only add fuel to the fire."
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York took to social media to blast Pence for his tie-breaking vote shortly after DeVos' confirmation.
"Today [Pence] did something no one else has ever done: cast the tie breaking vote on his own cabinet nominee," Schumer tweeted out. "#RiggedCabinet."
On Feb. 6, Trump took to his own Twitter to praise DeVos as "a reformer, and she is going to be a great Education Sec. for our kids!"