As the Senate prepared to vote on President Trump’s nominee for education secretary on Tuesday, Senate Democrats began their last-ditch effort to convince one more Republican to vote against her — which would block her confirmation.
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Led by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking member on the Senate committee charged with overseeing DeVos' confirmation, members of the minority party began what they said would be a 24 hours of floor speeches against Betsy DeVos, a Michigan advocate of charter schools and school vouchers.
The goal of the talkathon, Murray said, was to persuade one more of the 52 Republican senators to vote against DeVos. GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have already announced their no votes, which leaves DeVos with 50 Republican yes votes.
Vice President Mike Pence has already agreed to use his authority as the president of the Senate to cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of DeVos, but Democrats insisted they would try to siphon off one additional Republican to shift the balance in their favor.
Democrats are taking advantage of the last available tactic they have to delay the vote on DeVos. For procedural reasons, the earliest the Senate may vote on her confirmation is Tuesday at noon, unless all 100 senators agree before then to move the vote up. Because that won’t happen, Democrats can eat up the remaining hours until the DeVos vote by railing against her on the Senate floor.
DeVos’ nomination has elicited above-average negative reactions from everyday voters, who have flooded Senate phone lines and email accounts in recent weeks. The office of Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said Friday he had received more than 80,000 letters and emails urging him to vote no on DeVos’ confirmation.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Murray encouraged activists who have already called or emailed their senators to keep the pressure up until the vote.
“Double down on your advocacy. Keep making your voices heard for these last 24 hours,” she said.
The air wars also heated up over the weekend -- the last before her vote -- on both sides of the aisle, with one pro-DeVos group airing a TV ad calling liberals “full of rage and hate” for opposing DeVos, and with the left-leaning American Bridge releasing a video replaying a moment from DeVos’s hearing that went viral, when she defended the use of guns in schools by pointing to a Wyoming school that had a gun to protect against “potential grizzlies.”
Opponents of DeVos cite her lack of experience in the public education field (she has never attended or worked at a public school) and her support of conservative-supported education measures like vouchers that parents can apply toward paying for the school of their choice, which opponents say draws resources from public schools.
An aide for the Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, on which Murray and Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., sit, said he expects more than 30 Democrats to speak between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, and that the number could grow.
Alexander has maintained that DeVos has the votes to be confirmed.
“Mrs. DeVos will be an excellent education secretary. She has a commitment to public education,” he said during a floor speech Friday as the Senate held a procedural vote on her nomination.