by Abby Mergenmeier
Capital News Service
Elisabeth “Betsy” DeVos on Tuesday was confirmed narrowly by the Senate as the secretary of education after Vice President Mike Pence cast an historic, tie-breaking vote, but Maryland’s two senators opposed her, warning she was not qualified.
Maryland Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen were among the 50 senators who voted against DeVos.
“It’s done…I would have much preferred the president come in with a more traditional nominee, someone who has experience in education,” Cardin told Capital News Service. “I think that most Republicans would agree with that. As a result, the vice president had to come here to break the tie. That’s how this works.”
Both Maryland lawmakers said that they were troubled by DeVos’s lack of support for public schools, and her inability to offer her opinions on long-standing issues in the education community, especially during her confirmation hearing last month.
Cardin said that DeVos was a controversial choice, but he and others will continue to “fight for our students.”
His biggest concern for Maryland schools is the cost of higher education under the new secretary.
“The cost in our colleges and universities in Maryland are beyond the reach of so many families without financial assistance,” Cardin said. “We need an act of federal government to help us make college more affordable. Therefore, we are concerned whether a person of DeVos’s background will have that kind of sensitivity for higher education.”
In a statement, Van Hollen said that the Department of Education needs strong leadership and someone with a clear vision. DeVos’s refusal to support and enforce protections for children with disabilities was “appalling,” he said.
“We must do more to strengthen our schools, but her belief that we should prioritize school voucher programs and for-profit charter schools above public education is a convenient excuse for not investing adequate resources in our public schools,” Van Hollen charged.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., was the last to cast his vote, supporting the Devos confirmation. That brought the Senate tally to 50-50, forcing Pence, as president of the Senate, to vote as the tie-breaker.
Pence voted in the affirmative, thus confirming DeVos, a Republican, as the 11th secretary of education. DeVos is a wealthy political campaign contributor from Michigan who has spent much of her career advocating for educational choice through charter schools and vouchers.
It was the first time a vice president’s vote was used to break a Senate tie on a Cabinet nomination.