Senate confirms DeVos with tie-breaking vote by Pence

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Betsy DeVos to lead the Department of Education by the slimmest of margins, capping off a rocky, high-stakes fight for President Trump's pick.

Vice President Pence cast the deciding vote on DeVos, breaking a 50-50 tie after Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Border deployment 'peaked' at 5,800 troops | Trump sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing | Senators offer bill to press Trump on Saudis | Paul effort to block Bahrain arms sale fails Senators introduce bill to respond to Khashoggi killing Senate GOP discussing Mueller vote MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiDems slam Trump’s energy regulator nominee Ernst elected to Senate GOP leadership Earmarks look to be making a comeback MORE (Alaska) became the first Republican senators to oppose a Trump Cabinet pick, joining all Democrats.

Pence is the first vice president ever to cast a decisive vote on a Cabinet nominee. The last time a vice president broke a tie in the Senate was 2008, when then-Vice President Dick Cheney voted on tax legislation.

Pence arrived at the Capitol around approximately 11:30 a.m. but waited in the wings until the vote was tied at 50-50 to take over the presiding chair and cast his vote.

The vice president, a former lawmaker, chatted with GOP senators on the floor after the vote and shook hands with Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke writes blog post describing a literal run from near the capitol to near the White House Cruz brushes off question about campaign claim on O'Rourke paying for caravan Texas New Members 2019 MORE (R-Texas).

Pence was expected to meet with Senate Republicans during their closed-door weekly policy lunch on Tuesday afternoon.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer later defended Pence making history by breaking a tie on a Cabinet nominee, calling the vote "another glaring reminder of the unprecedented obstruction Senate Democrats have engaged in throughout this process.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFacebook reeling after damning NYT report Schumer warns Trump to stay out of government funding negotiations Schumer predicts Nelson will 'continue being senator' if 'every vote counted' MORE (D-N.Y.) made a failed eleventh-hour plea Tuesday morning for a third Republican to buck the party and sink DeVos's nomination.

“It’s the Republican side demanding a vote for an unqualified candidate,” the Senate’s top Democrat said. “I hope against hope that another Republican will have the courage ... [to] join us.”

Schumer suggested Republicans are privately saying they wish Trump picked someone else, calling DeVos a “negative trifecta.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Democrats forced a rare all-night session to try to rally public support behind their opposition to DeVos’s nomination, including protesting outside of the Capitol with progressive groups.

They painted Trump’s pick as a threat to public education.

“A vote for Ms. DeVos is a vote to destroy the public school system,” Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallHillicon Valley: Trump eyes staff shake-up | Amazon taps NYC, Northern Virginia for new offices | What it will mean for DC | Tech firms buck Trump on cyber pact | Defense official warns against hacking back Dem senators pressure FTC to investigate deceptive internet marketing to children Learning the lessons of Iraq MORE (D-N.M.) said from the Senate floor.

Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenMinnesota New Members 2019 Meet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Gillibrand sidesteps question on possible Clinton 2020 run MORE (D-Minn.) added that DeVos is “fundamentally incompetent,” saying her hearing was "one of the most embarrassing scenes" he’s seen since joining the Senate.

"I believe it may have been one the most embarrassing performances by a nominee in the history of the United States Senate," he said. "We would not accept a secretary of Defense who couldn't name the branches of the military.”

DeVos, a GOP mega-donor long active on education issues, has been the subject of fierce opposition from teachers unions and other liberal groups opposed to her support for charter schools and tuition vouchers that use public funds.

And her rocky performance during a confirmation hearing was panned by both sides. At one point, she advocated for guns in school because of the possibility of a grizzly bear attack, at least in Wyoming.

But Republicans and the White House remained publicly steadfast in their support of DeVos despite a wall of opposition. They argue Democrats are obstructing Trump’s nominees because they remain bitter about Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrat Katie Porter unseats GOP's Mimi Walters Former Facebook security chief: 'I failed to prepare my employer' on Russian disinformation Rand Paul: Facebook must 'convince conservatives they're not the enemy' MORE losing the 2016 presidential race.

“We’re no longer in the midst of a contentious presidential election,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators introduce Trump-backed criminal justice bill On The Money: Senior GOP senator warns Trump against shutdown | Treasury sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing | HQ2 deal brings new scrutiny on Amazon | Senate confirms Bowman to Fed board Senior GOP senator warns Trump against partial shutdown MORE (R-Ky.) said. “We have a new president, and that president has put forth … a number of well-qualified Cabinet nominees.”

He added that DeVos will return power to state and local governments because she understands they are "best suited to make education decisions for our kids.”

“This is a sad day for children,” American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said in a statement following the vote on Tuesday.

“If she wants to work with the educators who work hard every single day—in districts as diverse as McDowell County, W.Va., Detroit, and Scarsdale, N.Y.—to provide children the opportunities they deserve, we renew our invitation to have her visit America’s public schools and see the strategies that work for kids,” Weingarten said.

“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.”

Senate Republicans are threatening to keep the Senate in through the weekend as they try to confirm additional Cabinet nominees.

Republicans, pointing to data from the Senate Historical Office, note that the pace for confirming Trump’s picks is the slowest since George Washington. President Obama, by comparison, got seven nominees confirmed on his first day in 2009.

Senators will take up Sen. Jeff Sessions’s nomination to be attorney general on Wednesday. The move ensured the Alabama Republican was able to help bring DeVos across the finish line before leaving the Senate to take his new post.

After Sessions, lawmakers will turn to Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s picks to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and Treasury Department, respectively.

Democrats face an uphill battle to block any of Trump’s nominees, who only need a simple majority to clear the upper chamber. Republicans hold 52 seats, and no GOP senator has officially come out in opposition to any other Trump pick.

Schumer, however, dismissed GOP criticism, arguing Democrats had an obligation to speak out against nominees they believe are unqualified.

“We Democrats are very proud of what we have done here,” he said. “The nominee is so unqualified and the American people now know it.”

--Jordan Fabian contributed to this report, which was updated at 2:34 p.m.