How many GOP senators will stand up to megadonor DeVos? Just 2.
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The comments made on the Senate floor were not of the usual stilted partisan flavor. The debate on Betsy DeVos's confirmation as secretary of Education was brutally candid.

The senators who spoke against her nomination appeared to be speaking with genuine anger. Their words did not seem to be written by some smart staffer; no, they came from the heart.

To sum up the sentiment? It was outrage.

The longest-serving Democratic senator, Pat Leahy of Vermont, started out by saying, "I've seen thousands of confirmations ... not any one like this one." He lambasted DeVos with her own words: She had called public schools a "dead end."

He noted that the Republican majority seemed to be so worried about DeVos that their strategy seemed to be "don't let her speak."

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTrump FDA pick dodges questions on Trump's flavored vape ban Overnight Health Care: GOP senator says drug price action unlikely this year | House panel weighs ban on flavored e-cigs | New York sues Juul Schumer: Leadership trying to work out competing surprise medical bill measures MORE (D-Wash.) led the fight. She said that DeVos had an "anti-student agenda" and would have "no credibility inside the agency she is supposed to lead."

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE (D-Mass.) took an hour to make her case with these clear words: "It is difficult to imagine a worse choice." That DeVos is "for profit charter schools without strong oversight." That "She is embarrassingly unprepared ... has no experience in higher education."

DeVos, according to Warren, "could profit from the decisions she makes," has "shady investments," and "secret trusts." Warren implored her colleagues not to "ignore her hostility to public schools."

Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyNew ObamaCare enrollment period faces Trump headwinds Scrap House defense authorization provision benefitting Russia Here are the Senate Democrats backing a Trump impeachment inquiry over Ukraine call MORE (D-Pa.) noted that 92 percent of his state's students go to "traditional schools" and that he told DeVos, when they had met in his office, that she "will not be the secretary for private education."

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) argued that DeVos has "an astonishing ignorance of the agency she plans to lead." And then, with a piercing salvo, quoted her leading home-state paper, the Detroit Free Press, which had editorialized that DeVos "would end public education as we know it."

Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenTake Trump literally and seriously in Minnesota Ninth woman accuses Al Franken of inappropriate contact Al Franken to host SiriusXM radio show MORE (D-Minn.) called it "the most embarrassing confirmation I've ever seen." But his best point was his plea that Republican colleagues "set aside party loyalty," because if they could not do that when it came to the DeVos nomination, "What are we even doing here?"

But that argument only reached two GOP senators, Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTensions rise in Senate's legislative 'graveyard' 2020 Republicans accuse Schumer of snubbing legislation Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock MORE of Maine and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Impeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP Hillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day MORE of Alaska.

Every other Republican toed the party line.

One who should have known better was Tennessee Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: GOP senator says drug price action unlikely this year | House panel weighs ban on flavored e-cigs | New York sues Juul Overnight Energy: Mark Ruffalo pushes Congress on 'forever chemicals' | Lawmakers spar over actor's testimony | House Dems unveil renewable energy tax plan | Funding for conservation program passes Senate hurdle Schumer: Leadership trying to work out competing surprise medical bill measures MORE. For far too long, Alexander has had a reputation as a "responsible moderate." You might remember his two presidential forays, when he paraded around in red-and-black plaid shirts like some working-class Joe.

Alexander does have credentials — credentials perfectly suited to judge DeVos. Alexander had served as secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush. He has been governor of Tennessee and, especially relevant, president of his state's flagship public university.

To top it off, he is the son of a principal and a teacher. But all of this in no way enlightened him in regards to DeVos. None of his background or expertise gave him pause or curbed his enthusiasm for this uniquely unqualified person.

Let's call it what it is: DeVos's nomination was a big giant thank-you and political payoff for a person and a family who had given millions to the GOP for decades. A quid pro quo.

Why didn't President Trump just appoint DeVos the ambassador to some faraway, tiny island nation? She would have gladly accepted and we all would have been spared the entire embarrassing spectacle.

Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner. Previously, he was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington's NPR affiliate, and later became the political analyst for WTOP-FM, Washington's all-news radio station. He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.


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