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GOP Leaders Move to Shore Up Shaky DeVos Nomination

Education nominee moves up in the floor queue

Disability rights advocates were concerned about DeVos' lack of understanding of law that governs education for students with disabilities (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call).
Disability rights advocates were concerned about DeVos' lack of understanding of law that governs education for students with disabilities (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call).

Senate Republican leaders scrambled the floor schedule Wednesday to shore up the shaky nomination of Betsy DeVos to be Education secretary, after two of their colleagues said they could not support her. 

“I was trying to get to yes. I couldn’t,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who moments earlier joined Maine Sen. Susan Collins in telling their colleagues on the Senate floor that they would vote against DeVos’ nomination.

With the Senate’s 52-48 partisan breakdown in the GOP’s favor, the loss of Murkowski and Collins means that, assuming all other Republicans supported DeVos, Vice President Mike Pence could break a 50-50 tie and confirm her.

The Senate voted 52-47 to proceed to her nomination.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told Roll Call he expects the debate-limiting cloture vote on DeVos’ nomination will take place Friday morning, with the confirmation vote likely to be the first one next week. That would avoid working on the weekend of the Super Bowl.

Alexander said he was confident DeVos would have the votes needed to win approval, and some Republicans who had been on the fence came out with statements of support late Wednesday.

Among them was Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, who said he was reassured after a meeting with DeVos.

“Ms. DeVos confirmed to me that there will be no federally-mandated voucher program in the state of Kansas. She reassured me that the state, local districts and school boards will retain their important role in administering our schools and determining our students’ curriculum. She shares my interest in pursuing full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to ensure that our students with disabilities have the opportunity to receive a quality education and pursue their goals,” Moran said.

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller said support for DeVos from his state’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, “weighed heavily on my decision to vote for her confirmation.”

“Betsy DeVos understands the need to bring back education control to state and local boards, and I look forward to working with her to empower our parents, teachers, students, and local education officials,” Heller said.

Senate GOP plans to consider the nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general could have gotten in the way of DeVos’ confirmation. After the Senate dispensed with the expected confirmation of Rex Tillerson to be secretary of State, Republican leaders were expected to turn to Sessions next, whose nomination was approved 11-9 by the Judiciary Committee earlier Wednesday.

But if Sessions were confirmed, as expected, that would have put Republicans down one senator. The loss of the Murkowski and Collins votes meant DeVos might have only been able to garner 49 votes, thus dooming her nomination.

The fact that leaders scheduled a vote to proceed to the DeVos nomination next, though, is a sign GOP leaders might need Sessions’ vote just to get to Pence.
Bridget Bowman and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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