Two Republican lawmakers on the Senate education committee announced Wednesday that they will oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick to be secretary of education.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said they would vote against DeVos over concerns about her track record with and knowledge of public schools. Both of those senators discussed those concerns during a Senate education committee vote Tuesday, when lawmakers voted 12-11 to advance DeVos’ nomination to the full Senate.
However, Republican leaders appear not to be worried. “Senator Alexander is not concerned about her nomination. He is confident she will get confirmed,” an aide to Alexander said after the senators announced their opposition. UPDATE: Ed Patru, a spokesman for DeVos, said Wednesday that she will not drop out. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday he was “100 percent confident” that DeVos would still be confirmed.
Collins and Murkowski both represent relatively rural states without big school choice programs. DeVos is a big-time advocate for vouchers and other forms of choice. Until recently, she led the American Federation for Children.
Without those two senators on board, and assuming all Democrats vote against DeVos (which seems like a distinct possibility), there are now 50 votes in the Senate against DeVos.
So is there another Republican who could defect, vote against DeVos, and end her nomination? We explored that question earlier. The upshot: There are a few Senate Republicans who appear not to be big fans of vouchers, at least at the federal level.
One possibility: Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who has a tough re-election bid in 2018, and once voted against a sweeping federally funded voucher program. Other possibilities include Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., both of whom also voted against that voucher proposal. Some Democrats had hoped that Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., another senator from a rural state who opposed federally funded vouchers in the past, would vote against DeVos. But Capito’s spokeswoman told us Wednesday that that the West Virginia senator plans to vote for Trump’s education secretary nominee. UPDATE: Heller announced in a statement Wednesday that he would vote in favor of DeVos, saying that she “understands the need to bring back education control to state and local boards.”
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said before Tuesday’s committee vote that no Democrat will support DeVos. So far, that seems true. Since Franken’s remarks, a few prominent red-state Democrats, specifically Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, have said they will oppose DeVos.