Senate battles over DeVos, Sessions turn bitter
The Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as Education secretary and was expected to approve Sen. Jeff Sessions this week as attorney general amid furious partisan clashes over President Trump’s Cabinet picks. Democrats attempted to delay the confirmation of DeVos, a billionaire school-choice advocate who supports taxpayer funding for religious schools as well as charter schools, by staging an all-night debate on the Senate floor. After being inundated with phone calls from constituents, two centrist GOP senators also opposed the nominee: Susan Collins of Maine and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. With a 50-50 Senate deadlock, Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote—the first time a vice president has decided a Cabinet confirmation.
Democrats mounted another marathon debate on Sessions, which boiled over when Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren read a 1986 letter to the Senate from Coretta Scott King, late widow of Martin Luther King Jr. In the letter, King opposed Sessions’ ultimately failed nomination to be a federal judge, claiming that as U.S. attorney for Alabama he “used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.” After Warren read that passage, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cited a Senate rule barring lawmakers from impugning “the motives or integrity of any senator.” Warren was rebuked and blocked from speaking for the remainder of the debate. “I am surprised,” Warren said, “that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the U.S. Senate.”
What the columnists said
DeVos is “unqualified and dangerous,” said Lisette Partelow and Meg Benner in USNews.com. The new steward of America’s 100,000 public schools has no experience in public education and during confirmation hearings appeared ignorant of a federal law guaranteeing students with disabilities “a free and appropriate public education.” DeVos also won’t commit to enforcing laws that protect students from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and sexual orientation. In short, “there is no way to know if she plans to stand up for the kids who most need advocates.”
This isn’t about credentials—it’s about choice, said Nick Gillespie in Reason.com. Democrats warn that DeVos wants to “privatize” public education, but “nothing like that is on the table.” Charter schools are publicly funded, subject to oversight, and highly successful in urban areas: In Boston and New York City they reduced “the black-white reading gap” by two-thirds. Research shows that 68 percent of Americans support expanded school choice, including more than 70 percent of blacks, Latinos, and Millennials—but “contemporary politics may not allow partisans to admit that.”
The DeVos confirmation and Warren’s silencing are “a brutal reality check for Democrats,” said Greg Sargent in The Washington Post. Yes, they energized the grass roots and generated outrage on social media. But the all-powerful Republicans won anyway. Get used to it. Democrats “are going to lose. A lot.” The question is whether they can keep their spirits up through these demoralizing defeats, and the dawning realization “that the nonstop awfulness of Trump isn’t going away.”