Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Education, overcame a key Senate hurdle early Friday morning, clearing the path for her expected confirmation.
Senators voted 52-48 to advance DeVos’s nomination. No Democrats voted yes.
The vote, which came during a rare Friday session, sets up lawmakers to take a final vote early next week.
Vice President Pence is expected to have to break a 50-50 tie, the first time a vice president will cast the deciding vote on a Cabinet nomination.
Senate rules require an extra 30 hours of debate before senators can confirm DeVos. If Democrats refuse to yield back time and drag out the procedural clock, they could push a final vote until Tuesday.
Republicans have no room for error to clear DeVos, with GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWelcome to ground zero of climate chaos A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate Bipartisan blip: Infrastructure deal is last of its kind without systemic change MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiEmboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - DC prepares for Saturday of festivals & Jan. 6 demonstration Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee MORE (Alaska) saying they’ll vote against her.
The GOP mega-donor has been the subject of fierce opposition from teachers unions and other liberal groups opposed to her support for charter schools and tuition vouchers using public funds.
Opponents are hoping to peel off a third Republican senator but appear unlikely to succeed.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), whom the Huffington Post reported as the “best option” for sinking the nomination, announced his support for DeVos late Thursday.
“I am pleased to vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education,” he said in a statement. “Too many American kids are being left behind every day. That is not acceptable to Betsy DeVos, and it is not acceptable to me.”
GOP Sens. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenThe 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (N.D.), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerAustin, Milley to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal After messy Afghanistan withdrawal, questions remain House Democrats press leaders to include more funding for electric vehicles in spending plan MORE (Neb.) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Democrat Jacky Rosen becomes 22nd senator to back bipartisan infrastructure deal 9 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022 MORE (Nev.) —each considered potential swing votes — also said this week that they would support Trump’s pick.
Collins separately said that she isn’t trying to sway her GOP colleagues to vote against DeVos.
“I am doing what I think is right, and I respect that each senator has to make up his or her own mind,” she told reporters. “I’m not lobbying. I gave my speech on the floor.”
Opponents have also flooded Senate phone lines urging members to vote against her, and social media feeds have also been hit hard by anti-DeVos messages.
Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinRepublicans caught in California's recall trap F-35 fighter jets may fall behind adversaries, House committee warns Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (D-Calif.), who came out against DeVos on Thursday, noted she had received 95,000 calls, emails and letters opposing her nomination. Murkowski separately said she received “thousands” of calls from concerned constituents.
Senate Democrats blasted DeVos ahead of the vote, arguing her lack of experience with public schools should disqualify her from leading the Education Department.
"When you judge her in three areas — conflicts of interest, basic confidence and ideology, views on Education policy — it is clear that Betsy DeVos is unfit for the job of Education secretary," Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) said. "In all three areas ... she ranks among the lowest of any Cabinet nominee I have ever seen."
Under a 2013 decision, Democrats voted to lower the threshold for lower court and Cabinet posts to a simple majority from the previous 60-vote threshold.
If they hadn’t, Trump’s more controversial nominees, including DeVos and now-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, would likely not have been confirmed.
"A whole lot of people heard Betsy DeVos herself for the first time in that [confirmation] hearing, and they were not impressed, to put it mildly," Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayConservation group says it will only endorse Democrats who support .5T spending plan Support the budget resolution to ensure a critical investment in child care Senate Democrats try to defuse GOP budget drama MORE (Wash.), the top Education panel Democrat, said after the vote. "Her vision for education in America is one that is deeply at odds with ... parents and students and families."
Despite the pushback, Senate GOP leadership and the White House stayed firmly in DeVos’s corner.
"She has spent her time working on giving children choices of schools other than public schools," Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Tenn.) said Friday. "It's always puzzled me as to why anybody would criticize that."
Updated at 7:51 a.m.