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Donald Trump

Vice-President Pence casts historic tie-breaking vote to confirm DeVos as US education chief

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2017, 3:45am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2017, 7:32am

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as Education secretary by the narrowest of margins, with Vice-President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie in a historic vote.

Two Republicans joined Democrats in the unsuccessful effort to derail the nomination of the wealthy Republican donor. The Senate historian said Pence’s vote was the first by a vice president to break a tie on a Cabinet nomination.

Democrats cited her lack of public school experience and financial interests in organisations pushing charter schools. DeVos has said she would divest herself from those organisations.

Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska fear that DeVos’ focus on charter schools will undermine remote public schools in their states.

Despite the win, DeVos emerges bruised from the highly divisive nomination process. She has faced criticism, even ridicule for her stumbles and confusion during her confirmation hearing and scathing criticism from teachers unions and civil rights activists over her support of charter schools and her conservative religious ideology.

President Donald Trump accused Democrats of seeking to torpedo education progress.

Pence tweeted later in the day that supporting DeVos was “a vote for every child having a chance at a world-class education.”

Devos, 59, is the wife of Dick DeVos, the heir to the Amway marketing fortune. She has spent more than two decades promoting charter schools and publicly funded voucher programmes for private schools in her home state of Michigan and in other states.

Democrats were quick to denounce the confirmation.

“President Trump’s swamp got a new billionaire today,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement. “Millions of teachers, parents and students could not have made their opposition to Betsy DeVos’ confirmation any clearer — they do not want someone whose only education experience is dismantling public schools.”