Democrats hold 24-hour protest on Senate floor in last-ditch effort to stop confirmation of Betsy DeVos

Trump's billionaire pick to head Department of Education is tied, could require a tiebreaking vote from VP Pence

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published February 6, 2017 10:00PM (EST)

 (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Faced with no procedural power to block the confirmation of one of President Donald Trump's most controversial Cabinet picks, Democrats are directly appealing to the public for assistance in lobbying Republicans ahead of an expected vote for education secretary on Tuesday.

On Monday, Senate Democrats announced a 24 hour protest on the Senate floor to slow down the confirmation of Trump's sixth Cabinet nominee. Senators are urging Americans to flood Republican senators with calls and petitions to block Betsy DeVos as the next secretary of education.

"Democrats will hold the floor for the next 24 hours, until the final vote, to do everything we can to persuade just one more Republican to join us," Washington Sen. Patty Murray said from the Senate floor Monday. “This nomination is dead even right now — on the razor’s edge."

As Politico explained, Democrats' protest is not a filibuster  to delay or block a vote. "Instead, it is an attempt to call more public attention to the vote, and increase public pressure on GOP senators who have already received tens of thousands of calls and emails from people who oppose DeVos."

Democrats have been unified in opposing DeVos’ confirmation, they hope drawing attention to the issue that DeVos has never been in public schools -- not as a student, an educator or an administrator -- is enough to derail her nomination with Republicans.

“For the vast majority of people across the country, public education isn’t just another issue. It’s different,” Murray, the ranking Democrat of the Senate Education Committee, said. “We believe that a commitment to strong public schools is part of America’s core. The idea that every student, in every community, should have the opportunities that strong public schools offer. This is a notion that is embedded in our values. It’s who we are. It’s in our blood.”

In remarks prepared for delivery, Murray encouraged people across the country "to double down on your advocacy — and to keep making your voices heard for these last 24 hours."

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) said Monday, “Now is the time to put country before party.” Schumer called DeVos' "extreme" and said the nominee "seems to constantly demean the main purpose of her job, public education.”

Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press encapsulated Democrats' main objection to the Michigan GOP mega donor in a recent editorial: “Largely as a result of the DeVos’ lobbying, Michigan tolerates more low-performing charter schools than just about any other state.”

Due to reforms pushed by DeVos, the state “lacks any effective mechanism for shutting down, or even improving, failing charters." As a result, “We’re a laughingstock in national education circles, and a pariah among reputable charter school operators, who have not opened schools in Detroit,” Henderson wrote.

Multiple Senate Democrats indicated on Monday afternoon that they would take part in the late-night session to voice their objections to DeVos.

There's been a very aggressive organizing effort at the grass-roots level to overwhelm the Senate phone system with calls opposing DeVos.

In contrast, a website run by the formerly DeVos-led American Federation for Children is paying people online to express their support for Trump's pick, according to the Daily Kos.



The 24-hour marathon of speeches is expected to conclude at noon on Tuesday, when DeVos’s confirmation vote is scheduled. 

In a rare Friday morning session, DeVos cleared a key procedural hurdle in a party-line 52-48 vote.

Last week, two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said they would not vote to confirm DeVos. No other Republican has indicated that their support is shaky.

With the vote so close, DeVos' opponents in recent days have held rallies in the home states of lawmakers they are targeting, which include, Cory Gardner (Colorado) who represents a state won by Hillary Clinton, Shelley Moore Capito (West Virgina) and Jerry Moran (Kentucky), according to published reports.

But opponents are running out of time to find a crucial third Republican to help them sink DeVos. Republican Sens. Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania), John Hoeven (North Dakota), Dean Heller (Nevada) and Deb Fischer (Nebraska) — each considered potential candidates to flip and oppose DeVos — announced late last week that they would support Trump’s nominee.

If no other Republican defects, the Senate would likely deadlock at 50-50, requiring a tiebreaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence. Such a vote would mark the first time a vice president would be needed to confirm a Cabinet nominee, according to the Senate Historical Office.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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