DeVos poised to take step toward Trump Cabinet

The Senate will vote at 6:30 a.m. Friday morning to advance the nomination of Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s controversial pick to serve as secretary of Education.

The unusual Friday morning vote will set up a final vote on DeVos for Monday or Tuesday where Vice President Pence may have to cast the deciding vote.

Defections by two GOP senators — Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Energy: Trump NASA pick advances after drama | White House office to investigate Pruitt's soundproof booth | 170 lawmakers call for Pruitt to resign Trump's NASA nominee advances after floor drama Family, friends mourn death of Barbara Bush MORE of Maine and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators press administration on mental health parity Overnight Energy: Watchdogs unveil findings on EPA, Interior controversies | GAO says EPA violated law with soundproof booth | IG says Zinke could have avoided charter flight | GOP chair probes Pruitt's four email addresses GOP fractures over push to protect Russia probe MORE of Alaska — have given the GOP zero margin for error.

But it does not appear that opponents of DeVos have succeeded in picking off another GOP vote.

Two Republicans that Democrats had identified as potential swing votes, Sens. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerMeet the Democratic sleeper candidate gunning for Senate in Nebraska Tariff fight could hit GOP in key Senate states Russia, China eclipse US in hypersonic missiles, prompting fears MORE (Neb.) and John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenLobbying World Worried GOP views Trump trade war with angst Conservatives fear trade war could cripple tax cuts message MORE (N.D.), announced Thursday they would vote yes after receiving assurances from the nominee.

“I have received assurances from her in writing that the Department of Education will not impose new federal mandates related to vouchers on our schools. Local educators, schools boards and parents should be the decision makers, not bureaucrats in Washington,” Fischer said in a statement first released to the Omaha World-Herald.

Hoeven made a similar statement to reporters announcing his support.

“I’ll support her. The key is that she supports local control of education,” he said. “It should be up to the state and local school districts to determine how to educate our kids.”

He said that DeVos has also assured him that she strongly supports public education.

Two other GOP potential swing votes, Sens. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerSenate GOP wary of new tax cut sequel GOP Senate hopefuls race to catch up with Dems Family, friends mourn death of Barbara Bush MORE (Nev.), who is up for re-election in 2018, and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOvernight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes Arizona GOP tinkers with election rules with an eye on McCain's seat Heitkamp becomes first Dem to back Pompeo for secretary of State MORE (Ariz.), also say they will back her.

“She’ll be confirmed — you can take that to the bank,” said a confident Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynRepublicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes MORE (R-Texas).

The Huffington Post reported Thursday afternoon that they now see Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) as the “best option” for derailing DeVos but his office quashed that hope in a statement calling her a “great pick.”

“Betsy DeVos is a champion of school choice and Sen. Toomey believes she is a great pick,” his spokeswoman told PhillyVoice in an email. “Sen. Toomey does appreciate the feedback from folks in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania.”

DeVos has been the subject of a fierce effort by opponents to torpedo her nomination. Opponents have flooded Senate phone lines urging members to vote against her, and social media feeds have also been hit hard by anti-Devos messages.

No Democrats are expected to back DeVos, a billionaire who backs charter schools and vouchers that critics say could pull funding from public schools.

DeVos also endured a rocky confirmation hearing that only added to the opposition against her nomination.

If Democrats had not changed the filibuster rules when they ran the chamber, it is almost certain DeVos would not be confirmed. The rule changes mean a 60 vote majority is no longer required to clear nominations — aside from those to the Supreme Court.

That means DeVos needs just 50 votes — plus the support of Pence, to be confirmed.

Once the Senate votes to end debate on the DeVos nomination, the chamber’s rules require that 30 hours must elapse before a final vote. Democrats may be able to milk the clock until Tuesday by refusing to yield back time and requiring the Senate to be in session for the entire time.

Conryn told The Hill on Thursday that he expected the final vote to take place Monday but later amended his estimate to suggest Tuesday as another possibility.

The GOP decided against working through the weekend.

A group of Senate Republicans plan to attend a weekend fundraising event for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) in Florida and an unnamed senator has a family issue to take care of, scrubbing the possibility of weekend votes.

Collins announced Thursday she would oppose DeVos because of her history as a leading advocate of school vouchers and other programs designed to incentivize the creation of private alternatives to public schools.

Despite her opposition, Collins was still able to extract a promise from DeVos not to support legislation mandating that states use vouchers or attempt to condition federal funding on the establishment of voucher programs.

Collins also said she was “troubled” by what she called DeVos’s “lack of familiarity” with the Individuals with Disability Act, which requires schools to provide special services to disabled children.

Murkowksi told colleagues the she will oppose DeVos because of concern over her “lack of experience with public education and the lack of knowledge that she portrayed in her confirmation hearing.”

“The strongest public school system is a priority” in Alaska, Murkowski emphasized, because many schools serve remote rural areas where voucher-funded private options would make little sense.

She explained that her constituents have also questioned DeVos’s commitment to funding students with disabilities and whether she would force voucher programs on Alaska.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMaternal deaths keep rising in US, raising scrutiny Supreme Court weighs future of online sales taxes Senators press administration on mental health parity MORE (R-Tenn.), who handled DeVos’s confirmation hearing, defended her on the floor as someone who will make an “excellent Education secretary” and praised “her commitment to public education.”

He defended her advocacy in favor of voucher programs by arguing the growth of charter schools is “the most important reform on public schools in 30 years.”

Senate GOP leadership aides said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller The Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo MORE (R-Ky.) was never in doubt that he would have enough votes to confirm DeVos, a sign that he may have given Collins and Murkowski the green light to vote no.