As Christine wrote earlier today, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) declared that they would not vote for Betsy DeVos to become our next education secretary. It could put Vice President Mike Pence in a prominent role to save DeVos, which would be a first in history, according to Burgess Everett and Kimberly Hefling of Politico. Yet, they added that Murkowski and Collins made this announcement when they were sure all GOP support for DeVos was cemented. White House Press Secretary and Communications Director Sean Spicer assured the press corps that he is confident DeVos will be confirmed:
"She has the votes and will be confirmed," said a senior GOP aide.
DeVos needs a simple majority on the Senate floor, and there are 52 Republicans. If there is a tie, Vice President Mike Pence will be the deciding vote. That would make history: According to a list provided by a Democratic aide, a vice president has never broken a tie on a Cabinet confirmation vote.
However, both Collins and Murkowski supported DeVos in a committee hearing on Tuesday, saying they did not want to block the full Senate from having its say. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who heads the Senate committee that works on education issues, thanked Collins and Murkowski for not obstructing the process. Alexander defended DeVos on the Senate floor, saying she will be an "excellent education secretary."
"I believe we are going to confirm her," Alexander said in an interview. He said Collins and Murkowski were "being consistent." They had opposed DeVos' nomination but "wanted to let all senators vote on this nomination." Both Republicans routinely helped advance President Barack Obama's nominations, as well.
Yet, with these defections, it might switch the vote to confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as our next attorney general. Senate Republicans need his vote to allow Pence to cast the deciding vote (via Roll Call):
GOP plans to consider the nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general got in the way. After the Senate dispensed with the expected confirmation of Rex Tillerson to be secretary of State, Republican leaders were expected to turn to Sessions next, whose nomination was approved 11-9 by the Judiciary Committee earlier Wednesday.
But if Sessions were confirmed, as expected, then that would have put Republicans down one senator. The loss of the Murkowski and Collins votes meant DeVos might have only been able to garner 49 votes, meaning her nomination would have fallen, 49-50.
The fact that leaders scheduled a vote to proceed to the DeVos nomination next, though, is a sign GOP leaders might need Sessions’ vote just to get to Pence.
Also, via Bill McMorris at the Washington Free Beacon, the two GOP defectors also received thousands of dollars from National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union:
Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) and Susan Collins (R., Maine) have each benefited from contributions from the National Education Association. Collins received $2,000 from the union in 2002 and 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Murkowski, meanwhile, has received $23,500.
The NEA represents 3 million members, making it the wealthiest and most influential union in the country. The NEA, along with other labor groups like the American Federation of Teachers, has waged a fierce campaign against DeVos, a billionaire philanthropist and school choice activist.
Teachers unions donate almost exclusively to Democrats. The NEA contributed $2.3 million to Democratic candidates in 2016, while Republican nominees received $350,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.