Betsy DeVos has won Senate confirmation—after an unprecedented intervention

Close call.
Close call.
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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Following no small amount of controversy, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the United States’ next education secretary today (Feb. 7), making history in the process.

DeVos—whose flimsy qualifications and financial conflicts of interest made her one of president Donald Trump’s most contentious cabinet picks—scraped through the Senate by a 51-50 vote. Two Republican senators sided with 48 Democrats in opposing DeVos’ confirmation, leading to a tie. Per Senate rules, vice president Mike Pence stepped in to cast the deciding vote.

It’s the first time in US history that a vice president has needed to intervene in a cabinet nominee’s confirmation.

While vice presidents have a constitutional duty to break ties in the Senate, rarely are they actually called upon to intercede. Ties are few and far between; the last one took place in 2008, when vice president Dick Cheney broke a 50-50 vote on a matter related to the federal budget. The last time the Senate was tied over any sort of presidential nomination was three decades ago: In 1986, Ronald Reagan appointed a lawyer to a federal appellate court whom Democrats contested (over his lack of qualifications, much as in DeVos’s case), and vice president George Bush had to step in and push the appointee over the line.

The bitter contest over DeVos’s confirmation may be over, but the tight vote portends a tension-riddled atmosphere greeting the new secretary once she takes office.