Trump’s education secretary scrapes past the Senate committee—by 12 votes to 11

A teachable moment.
A teachable moment.
Image: Reuters/Yuri Gripas
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Pop quiz: Who is Betsy DeVos? Choose the answer that best applies:

a) US president Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Education
b) A Michigan billionaire with over 100 potential financial conflicts
c) A private school graduate with no personal experience of public education
d) A staunch advocate of charter schools, despite effectiveness concerns
e) A supporter of the religious concept of creationism
f) One of Trump’s only cabinet picks with no public-education background
g) The most contested education secretary nominee in US history
h) All of the above.

DeVos, who faced an uneasy confirmation hearing earlier this month, was today approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions as Trump’s education secretary, meaning her nomination will now pass to a full Senate vote for final confirmation.

The vote was 12 to 11. (An argument broke out almost immediately on the whether the 12th vote—a Republican “yes” vote sent in by proxy—should count. Then, the committee spent half an hour wrestling over whether they could overrule the first vote. Democrats ultimately lost.)

Before voting, members of the committee debated for almost two hours over DeVos’s qualifications, previous testimony, and professional experience, with several Democrats raising a myriad of objections—including the fact that DeVos appeared to have plagiarized several of her answers to their recent questions about her policy stances. “We simply have not been given all the information we need to make a decision, as senators charged with robustly scrutinizing a president’s nominee,” said Washington senator Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren went further with her criticism: “It’s hard to imagine a candidate less qualified or more dangerous to be entrusted both with our country’s education policy and with the trillion-dollar student loan program.” She added, “This is a rush job by Republicans. The American people are smart enough to see what’s happening here.”

Republicans on the committee, all of whom voted along party lines, defended DeVos and claimed she is facing an unfair level of scrutiny simply because she is Trump’s nominee, not Barack Obama’s. It’s true Obama’s education secretaries passed through their nominations with much less controversy—but it’s also a fact that Obama’s picks had long histories in education, including attending or teaching at public schools themselves.

The date of DeVos’s confirmation vote in the Senate has not been set.