Two Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, have announced that they will not vote to confirm Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education. Collins cited DeVos’ lack of familiarity with the Disabilities Education Act. Murkowski expressed concern that DeVos “has been so immersed in the discussion of vouchers.”
Without these two votes, DeVos is down to 50 Republican votes. She cannot expect to win the vote of any Democrat, given the Dems’ imperative that at least one nominee be defeated.
The votes of the other GOP Senators would be sufficient to confirm DeVos, assuming no additional Republican defections and assuming either that Sen. Jeff Sessions is still around to vote for DeVos or that his replacement is seated. Thus, if conservative Senators close ranks behind DeVos, it may well be possible to confirm her via the vote of Vice President Pence.
But should conservatives save DeVos? Her selection is problematic for several reasons. First, as I noted just after the nomination, DeVos and her husband aggressively opposed the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) before its passage in 2006. This was a citizen initiative to ban discrimination based on race, color, sex, or religion in admission to colleges, jobs, and other publicly funded institutions. The idea was to eliminate preferential treatment by public institutions based on these factors.
As anyone who has been paying attention knows, issues of race and sex would be a big part of DeVos’ portfolio at the Department of Education. There is reason to question whether she’s the person conservatives should want dealing with these issues.
Second, many conservatives are concerned that DeVos has been a supporter of common core. That concern is explained in this article that from Breitbart.
Related to this concern is the fear that the staff being assembled to work in the Trump administration Education Department backs common core and may also be too liberal in other respects. According to Breitbart:
Grassroots activists who have been battling against federal control of education in the states say the list of staffers already working for the Trump administration’s education department looks much like a cross between what a “President” Jeb Bush would have ordered and what President Barack Obama left behind on his way out.
I have no personal knowledge about the staffers in question. But if the worries are justified, then it is imperative to have a Secretary of Education willing to push back. Unfortunately, the staffers may be from the same mold as DeVos.
Why, then, should conservatives salvage DeVos’ nomination? The obvious answer is to prevent the Democrats from claiming a single “scalp” in the confirmation process.
But is this answer good enough? Sure, the Democrats would be temporarily energized by defeating a Trump nominee — any nominee. But the euphoria would quickly fade if Trump nominates a more conservative Education Secretary than DeVos and that nominee is confirmed.
Let’s also remember that the first President Bush was unable to get John Tower, his nominee for Secretary of Defense, confirmed. I don’t recall this defeat slowing Bush down or otherwise adversely affecting his administration.
Conservatives could try to exact promises from DeVos in exchange for her support. However, once DeVos is confirmed, such promises may mean little. If the concerns about her staff are valid, the only way to stop the train — or at least alter its course — may be to see the DeVos nomination fail and then make the case for a better nominee.
So it isn’t clear to me whether conservatives should want the DeVos nomination to succeed or to fail.