Stopped by Senate rules from filibustering to delay the vote on a Cabinet nominee, Senate Democrats tried the closest thing to it yesterday and throughout last night: a 24 hour marathon of speeches against Betsy Devos, right up to the moment her confirmation vote at noon today.
Here is Kimberly Hefling writing yesterday afternoon at POLITICO: “Senate Democrats will take the floor throughout the day and night Monday to voice their opposition to Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary—a Hail Mary effort to convince one more Republican to join them so that they can thwart her confirmation.”
Emma Brown of the Washington Post explains further: “DeVos’s confirmation vote is scheduled for noon Tuesday. All 48 members of the Senate Democratic caucus are expected to oppose her, along with two Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine. Democrats need just one more Republican to flip to defeat the nomination, and they are hoping their 24 hour speech-a-thon will ratchet up the pressure.”
Brown quotes Senator Patty Murray, the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee: “This nomination is dead even right now—on the razor’s edge… For the vast majority of people across the country, public education isn’t just another issue. It’s different… We believe that a commitment to strong public schools is part of America’s core. The idea that every student, in every community, should have the opportunities that strong public schools offer. This is a notion that is embedded in our values. It’s who we are. It’s in our blood.”
Anti-DeVos rallies took place over the weekend and on Monday. Here in Cleveland, Ohio, late yesterday afternoon an enthusiastic crowd of over 500 people assembled in front of Republican Senator Rob Portman’s office to protest his pledge to support the DeVos nomination. WKYC covered the rally and provides a good summary of DeVos’s record.
Teachers, parents, grandparents and citizens gathered to protest not only DeVos’s record but her poor showing at her Senate confirmation hearing a couple of weeks ago. Some members of the crowd at the Cleveland rally were part of a group of 23 local and statewide organizations who—on January 9, even before her confirmation hearing—delivered to the Cleveland offices of Senators Sherrod Brown (D) and Rob Portman (R) a joint statement protesting the Betsy DeVos nomination. The signers, who included the Northeast Ohio Branch of the AAUW, teachers groups, a PTA, several local public school support coalitions, a band and orchestra parents’ organization and a local school foundation, declared: “Traditional public schools serve 90 percent—approximately 50 million—of our nation’s children and adolescents, yet Betsy DeVos has no experience with public education. She has never attended a public school, nor did she educate her own children in public schools. Neither is she a public school teacher… She has said that public education is ‘antiquated and frankly embarrassing’—‘a dead end.’ Ms. DeVos is a billionaire whose only experience with public schools is her extensive philanthropy that has underwritten lobbying to privatize public education” through groups she funds like the American Federation for Children and the Great Lakes Education Project, “a Michigan lobbying group founded by and supported by Ms. DeVos and her husband (that) blocked legislation in the Michigan House to responsibly regulate charter schools….”
While Sherrod Brown, Ohio’s Democratic Senator and a firm supporter of public schools, has declared he will vote “no” on the DeVos confirmation, Senator Portman shows no sign of following his constituents’ pleas that he oppose DeVos. Stephen Koff, the Plain Dealer‘s Washington reporter, describes Portman’s constituents as “angry that Portman, known to many as a compassionate conservative, says he will vote to confirm her… Editorial boards have urged Portman to vote no on DeVos, an unapologetic champion of private companies that get taxpayer money to run charter schools, some with questionable oversight… Portman is not dissuaded….”
Koff interviews David Cohen, a University of Akron political scientist about how Portman’s firm support of Betsy DeVos will play with Ohio voters: “Until now, Portman has always portrayed himself ‘as a compassionate conservative who would break with his party if needed’ … Now, if he ends up voting for DeVos—the most controversial of Trump’s Cabinet picks because of her support of charter schools and lack of understanding of basic education policy—Portman will have a much harder time selling himself as an independent-thinking Republican. ‘Instead,’ Cohen concludes, ‘he’ll look like a follower who faithfully takes orders from Republican leadership and Donald Trump.'”
It is still worth keeping up the pressure on your Senators before today’s scheduled confirmation vote on Betsy DeVos at noon. Here are links to the Senators’ phone numbers and here is an action alert from the National Education Association that you can personalize and send if you cannot get through on the phone.