Betsy DeVos vote: Pence’s history-making tie breaker confirms controversial education sec.

(NBC News) — By the narrowest of margins, the U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Betsy DeVos to be the nation’s new education secretary.

A 50-50 deadlock over her confirmation was broken by Vice President Mike Pence who became the first vice president ever to cast a tie-breaking vote for a cabinet nominee.

The vote to confirm DeVos came after Senate Democrats staged an all-night Senate talkathon Monday evening, a tactic to draw attention to their opposition to the Michigan billionaire who has no experience working, attending or volunteering at a public school.

DeVos now becomes the sixth cabinet appointment of President Donald Trump’s to be confirmed.

Pence was needed to break the 50-50 tie after two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced their opposition to DeVos last week. The rural state Republicans said that DeVos lacked the experience to understand “the challenges” facing public schools.

Democrats unified opposition to DeVos came after a nomination hearing where she failed to demonstrate a deep understanding of education philosophy.

An exasperated Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, recalled on the Senate floor just before 10:00 p.m. Monday night his exchange with DeVos during the hearing last month where he asked if she was partial to an educational philosophy where children are measured on growth within the academic year or on proficiency of a grade level.

“She had no idea what I was talking about,” Franken said. “I can’t overstate how central this issue is to education.”

Clips from the hearing that circulated on social media further mobilized people in opposition to DeVos. While she was one of the eight cabinet secretaries Democrats originally said they would mount an opposition campaign, the public fury over DeVos surprised even them.

Supported by progressive groups and local Democratic parties, calls flooded into Senate offices, jamming phone lines, pressuring Democrats to fight her nomination and urging Republicans to oppose her. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, said that most of the calls she’s receiving are about DeVos and 90 percent are in opposition. And Sen. Bob Casey, R-Penn., has received more than 100,000 calls opposed to DeVos, more calls on one topic than he’s had since he entered the Senate in 2007, according to an Democratic aide.

In addition, rallies have been organized at Senate district offices around the country. Such pressure successfully influenced Collins and Murkowksi.

Democrats have also expressed concerns that DeVos is philosophically opposed to public schools — and her business ties raise questions about conflicts of interest. She has personally invested in private and charter schools and been an outspoken advocate on both.

So while they couldn’t stop her confirmation, Democrats can make it as painful as possible. They plan to use a similar delay tactic for more nominees, including for Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, to be attorney general. The Senate is expected to move to his confirmation next.

The strategy allows time to mount public opposition but also use up valuable floor time that will backlog legislation Republicans and the Trump administration wish to pass this year, including health care reform.

Republicans plan on votes to confirm Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin and Rep. Tom Price to be secretary of Health and Human Services Department. The Democrats’ strategy could force a vote on Mnuchin into Saturday morning, a day of the week the Senate rarely works.

Republicans have sharply criticized Democrats tactics to slow down the nomination process. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called it “juvenile,” and Sen. Collins said it’s “not really far.”

“I don’t really understand the point of their tactics. It’s not going to have an influence on the final vote,” she said specifically of Democrats delay of DeVos.

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