U.S. Senate support for Trump education nominee weakens

Two Republican senators have said they would not vote for Betsy DeVos. With Democrats expected to oppose her as a block, the chamber is split 50-50 on her confirmation.

Yuri Gripas/Reuters/File
Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to be next Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2017.

Public refusals on Wednesday by two U.S. Senate Republicans to support Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump's pick for education secretary, raised the possibility of a rare congressional rejection of a Cabinet nominee.

In an ominous sign for Trump, Republican senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski said they would not vote for Ms. DeVos, a billionaire philanthropist and charter-school advocate.

They would be the first Republicans to break party ranks and vote against one of Trump's cabinet selections.

Democrats, uniformly opposed to DeVos, are expected to oppose her as a block. They would only need for three Republicans to side with them to make DeVos just the 10th cabinet nominee in U.S. history to be rejected by Congress.

Senator Collins and Senator Murkowski also created a possible speed bump in confirming another Trump nominee, that of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General.

Once Senator Sessions, who was approved by Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, becomes the country's top law enforcement officer, he will have to vacate his seat and can no longer cast a vote supporting DeVos. With voting margins so thin, his departure would put her nomination in peril.

Soon after Collins and Murkowski staked out their opposition to DeVos, the White House said it is confident that she will ultimately be approved.

Senator John Cornyn, responsible for tallying Republican votes in the chamber, was also confident DeVos would be confirmed.

Nonetheless, DeVos' opponents kicked into high gear on Wednesday to press other Republican Senators to vote no when the chamber begins considering the nomination, expected as early as Wednesday afternoon.

"I cannot support this nominee," Murkowski said in a floor speech saying she needed to make her intentions clear to her colleagues.

DeVos' nomination barely squeaked through a Senate committee vote on Tuesday, with both Collins and Murkowski saying they voted yes only so the entire Senate could debate the matter.

Trump's early nominations, primarily for security posts, had an easier time on Capitol Hill than names now before the Senate.

Republicans hold majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives, but Democrats have been on a blitz to try to block the nominations, often raising concerns about conflicts of interest.

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee had to suspend its rules to advance Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin and Health Secretary nominee Tom Price to the full chamber for approval, the final step in the confirmation process.

Committee Democrats on Tuesday had boycotted the vote, forcing Republicans to scrap a requirement that at least one Democrat be present for a vote.

Confirmation hearings for Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder have been indefinitely delayed over ethics filings.

Meanwhile, the Senate confirmed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state on Wednesday, filling a key national security spot despite concerns about the former Exxon Mobil Corp chief executive officer's ties to Russia.

Education Secretary nominees are rarely the focus of congressional debate or political protests. DeVos, though, has faced unusually fierce opposition since her confirmation hearing, where she appeared unfamiliar with education laws and public school issues.

Old-guard Republicans including Former first ladies Barbara Bush and Laura Bush have defended her as a lifelong champion of low-income students and literacy. (Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Alan Crosby)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.