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With 2 GOP Defections, Pence May Need to Break DeVos Confirmation Tie

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WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence may be called upon to break a tie and confirm President Trump’s pick for Education secretary after there have been no signs of Dem crossovers and two GOP senators said they’ll vote against Betsy DeVos.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said on the Senate floor today that hers was “not a decision that I’ve made lightly” and that she believes DeVos “cares deeply about the children of this nation.”

“Mrs. DeVos is the product of her experience. She appears to view education through the lens of her experience in promoting alternatives to public education in Detroit and other cities where she has, no doubt, done valuable work,” Collins said. “Her concentration on charter schools and vouchers, however, raises the question of whether or not she fully appreciates that the secretary of Education’s primary focus must be on helping states and communities, parents, teachers, school board members, and administrators strengthen our public schools.”

“While it is unrealistic and unfair to expect a nominee to know the details of all the programs under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education, I am troubled and surprised by Mrs. DeVos’ apparent lack of familiarity with the landmark 1975 law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA, that guarantees a free and appropriate education to children with special needs,” the senator added, emphasizing that “the mission of the Department of Education is broad, but supporting public education is at its core.”

“I am concerned that Mrs. DeVos’ lack of experience with public schools will make it difficult for her to fully understand, identify, and assist with those challenges, particularly for our rural schools in states like Maine,” Collins said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) also said she was concerned about DeVos’ support for public schools, saying Trump’s pick has been “so involved in one side of the equation – so immersed in the push for vouchers – that she may be unaware of what actually is successful in the public schools, and what is broken or how to fix them.”

“Betsy DeVos must show us that she truly understands the children of Alaska and across America, both urban and rural, who are not able to access an alternative choice in education as in so many of my communities. She must show us that she will work to help the struggling public schools that strive to educate children whose parents are unable to drive them across town to get to a better school. That she will not ignore the homeless students whose main worry is finding somewhere safe to sleep and for whom their public school is truly a refuge. That she will fight for the children whose parents do not know how to navigate these educational options,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor.

Murkowski noted that extensive concerned feedback from her constituents was also weighed in deciding to vote against DeVos.

And though Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) can sometimes be relied on by the GOP to cross the aisle in tight votes, he said this morning that DeVos was a “no.” Again, the reason given was the charter schools advocate’s lack of experience in public education.

“Betsy DeVos has never attended or worked in a public school. The needs facing rural schools in West Virginia are unique and her lack of exposure to public education is very concerning for me,” Manchin said. “We need an Education secretary who has an understanding of the needs of all children, including those with disabilities, and is committed to ensuring they receive a quality education.”

Manchin added that the doesn’t “believe that Betsy DeVos is qualified to serve in this role, which is so vital to the future of our state.”

Advocates against DeVos were leaning hard on select GOP senators they see as potential wobblers. But if the number holds at 50, and all Dems remain united, Pence would be called upon to make history — the first time a vice president has had to tie-break a cabinet nomination.

A procedural vote on the nomination is scheduled for Friday, pushing DeVos’ final confirmation vote into next week.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters today he has “zero” fears of DeVos not being confirmed.

“I have 100 percent confidence she will be the next secretary of Education,” Spicer said. “She is unbelievably qualified, educator, and advocate for students, teachers, parents, who will be a… I think that the games that are being played with Betsy DeVos are sad. She is someone who has been a tireless advocate over the last couple of decades to really support reforms that benefit children. And they are going to be the real winners with her as secretary of Education.”