The Senate is set to vote shortly on Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos after a 24-hour marathon session by Senate Democrats who are attempting to sway one Republican senator to vote against the nomination.
One vote is all that is needed to block DeVos. In the case that there is a tie, Vice President Mike Pence will make the tie-breaking vote, the first time in history a VP has been called to do so for a cabinet nominee.
But who would that senator be?
Constituents making their voices heard against DeVos are far more likely to persuade a Republican senator than even the most persuasive speech from a Democratic senator. Murkowski cited constituent feedback as critical in determining her position. And since Murkowski and Collins came out against DeVos last week, the Capitol Hill phone system has been melting with constituent heat for undecided Republican senators.
None of them has budged. Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey was named as a possibility last week; he has since come out with a statement affirming his support. Sens. Jeff Flake, Dean Heller, Thom Tillis, Mike Crapo, John Hoeven, and Rob Portman all took their turns through the same ringer, and all have since said they’ll support DeVos.
This does not mean that it would be in vain to continue calling or writing them urging them to change their minds. If the heat is turned up to an extreme following a senator’s announcement of support, one of those senators could rethink. The idea is for a senator to feel that the trouble he or she would get in with constituents for supporting DeVos would be greater than the trouble with Trump for voting against her.
That’s a high bar to clear, and it’s why Democrats are having such a hard time finding that third Republican defection.
Yesterday, ethics lawyers for Bush and Obama spoke out against DeVos:
Her extensive financial holdings present significant—and unresolved—conflict of interest issues. She also failed to provide the Senate with accurate information about her involvement with outside organizations. We have regretfully come to the conclusion that these concerns disqualify DeVos for that cabinet position.
This is not a claim that we make reflexively. We supported the nomination of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who took extensive steps to avoid conflicts with his former employer, ExxonMobil. Likewise, we have welcomed the plan that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has announced to address his ethics issues, although we await final details and implementation. By contrast, DeVos’ failure to meet even minimum standards leaves us with no choice but to speak out.
DeVos, who plagiarized answers to questions from senators regarding her viewpoints, has a terrible record for LGBT people.
Writes Lambda Legal:
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students contact Lambda Legal every day to seek help being safe at school. We need a Secretary of Education who will make schools safe for all students, and who won’t tolerate bullying – by peers, parents, or school administrators. What we know so far about Betsy DeVos’s record concerns us. She has supported Focus on the Family, which opposes marriage equality, and her family foundation has funded a group that advances the dangerous practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy.’ Her advocacy for privatizing public education could eject students – LGBT or not – from the protection of federal laws. A complete confirmation process for Betsy DeVos is necessary in order to fully investigate whether she supports equal rights for LGBT students.
Under the Obama administration, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has aggressively policed civil rights issues — such as cracking down on colleges that mishandle sexual assault cases, and urging schools to extend anti-bullying policies to cover LGBT students. During the election, the Trump campaign was critical of the civil rights office, with some Trump surrogates questioning its very existence. DeVos has said little about such issues, but civil rights advocates have said they’re “deeply concerned” that she might seek to rein in the office’s enforcement efforts. They note the DeVos family has a long history of supporting anti-gay causes — including donating hundreds of thousands to groups that push “conversion therapy” — raising questions about how DeVos would address discrimination against gay and transgender students. Democrats and advocacy groups are also concerned about donations that DeVos’ foundation made to another group, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has pushed to raise the standard of evidence in sexual assault cases on college campuses. Ed Patru, a spokesman for a group of DeVos supporters, said she sees private school vouchers and charter schools as a civil rights issue. “In hundreds of communities of color, kids aren’t being taught the skills they need to succeed in college or find the kinds of jobs that pay enough to escape poverty, and Betsy believes that is an alarming civil rights crisis,” Patru said.
She also believes guns should be allowed in schools…to prevent grizzly bear attacks.