Tuesday’s historic 51-50 confirmation vote of Betsy DeVos to be the next secretary of education not only highlights the impotence of the Democratic minority in the Senate — it marks a crushing defeat for the teachers unions.
Union leaders went all out to defeat DeVos, a school choice activist from Michigan. Democrats staged a 24-hour talk-a-thon in the Senate in an attempt to scuttle the nomination. They managed to persuade two Republicans to join a united Democratic caucus. But Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote, likely ending the Democrats’ last best hope to stop any of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees.
“This was their best shot. They lost. They should stop trying to obstruct this administration.”
“This was their best shot,” said Jason Pye, a spokesman for the advocacy group FreedomWorks. “They lost. They should stop trying to obstruct this administration.”
DeVos is expected to be sworn in later Tuesday.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, urged DeVos to visit public schools to see education strategies that work.
“But it’s more likely we’ll now hear the same trashing of public schools that the disrupters, the privatizers, and the austerity hawks have used for the last two decades. That makes this a sad day for children,” she said in a prepared statement.
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, tried to put a positive spin on the vote.
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“Americans across the nation drove a bipartisan repudiation of the Trump-DeVos agenda for students and public education,” she said in a statement. “Today’s outcome marks only the beginning of the resistance.”
CNN reporters and commentators emphasized all day long the fact that it was the first time a vice president has had to cast a tie-breaking vote to confirm a nominee. But they left out some important context: Until former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gutted the filibuster rule for Cabinet nominees, the minority party could scuttle nominations that did not attract widespread support.
That has happened plenty of times in the past.
On Tuesday, though, Republican senators from across the spectrum praised DeVos.
“Parents, teachers, administrators, and students all know that one-size-fits-all Washington education standards are not working and it is time to return control back to states and communities,” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said in a statement. “Betsy DeVos shares these same beliefs.”
Added Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in his own statement: “Mrs. DeVos has been involved in education reform for decades. She will bring a new perspective to ensure every child can attend a school that prepares them for the future.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer blasted the “childish tactics” Democrats used to try to maintain a “failed status quo” in education.
“The fact that we had to get to the point where the vice president had to be pulled in to overcome the Democrats’ historic and partisan logjam of the president’s qualified nominee is another glaring reminder of the unprecedented obstruction that Senate Democrats have engaged in throughout this process,” he said at his daily briefing.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools praised the confirmation vote.
“We believe that Secretary DeVos will put students and families first and we look forward to working with her to ensure each child has access to a high-quality public school and a safe and supportive environment in which to learn,” the organization said in a statement.
Pye, of FreedomWorks, said he hopes the leadership change at the Department of Education give a boost to school reform legislation that has been introduced in Congress.
“You’re going to see school choice back in the conversation again,” he said.