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Confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of Education in peril as two GOP senators defect

reporting from washington

Confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of Education in peril as two GOP senators defect

President Trump is facing his most serious Cabinet confirmation battle yet after two GOP senators on Wednesday announced that they will vote against his nominee for secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

In speeches on the Senate floor, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said they were troubled by what they said was DeVos’ lack of understanding of public school issues beyond her signature cause of promoting school choice in struggling urban communities. Their plans to vote against DeVos threw the nomination into turmoil.

Late Wednesday, DeVos’ nomination took another hit, from Eli Broad, the billionaire philanthropist who has funded many education reform efforts, especially charter schools. Broad sent a letter to senators calling DeVos unqualified.

“With Betsy DeVos at the helm of the U.S. Department of Education, much of the good work that has been accomplished to improve public education for all of America’s children could be undone,” Broad wrote.

He said he initially had questions about her desire for “unregulated” charter schools and vouchers, and that her performance at her confirmation hearing had increased his doubts.

DeVos currently does not have any support from Senate Democrats. She will need every remaining Republican to vote for her to force a tie on the Senate floor, which could then be broken by Vice President Mike Pence.

White House officials expressed confidence that DeVos would be confirmed despite the opposition from Murkowski and Collins. Opponents focused attention on Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who has not yet declared his intentions.

The fissure in the Senate GOP caucus over her nomination created a considerable political headache for the new administration. It will likely delay the confirmation of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, as Sessions’ vote will now be crucial to winning approval for DeVos.

The turbulence reflects the challenges Trump faces in working with Congress, even when it is controlled by his own party. And it comes at a time when some fellow Republicans are eager to send the administration the message that failing to work in concert with Congress -- as Trump neglected to do before issuing poorly executed executive orders on immigration -- can be perilous to his agenda.

In her floor speech, Collins said DeVos’ focus on charter schools and vouchers “raises the question about whether or not she fully appreciates that the secretary of Education’s primary focus must be on helping states and communities … strengthen our public schools.”

Collins said she was “troubled and surprised” that DeVos lacked familiarity with the landmark Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, guaranteeing appropriate education to children with special needs.

Murkowski said she had received thousands of calls from voters expressing alarm about DeVos. “They’re very concerned that Mrs. DeVos will force vouchers on Alaska,” she said. “Mrs. DeVos has much to learn about our nation’s public schools, how they work and the challenges they face.”

This post was updated with news of Eli Broad’s letter criticizing DeVos.

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