WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate on Tuesday narrowly approved Betsy DeVos as education secretary, requiring a rare vote from the vice president to push the controversial nominee over the top.
Two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, came out against DeVos last week, but Democrats were unable to flip one more of their GOP colleagues to sink the nomination.
The vote held Tuesday afternoon ended with a 50-50 tie, with Vice President Mike Pence casting an unprecedented tiebreaking vote for an agency head.
With the exception of Collins and Murkowski the vote fell strictly along party lines.
Key to DeVos finally being approved was Sen. Jeff Sessions, who has been nominated to serve as attorney general. His nomination has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee but final approval of his nomination by the full Senate was put off so that he could vote in favor of DeVos.
Though senators at his confirmation hearing urged Sessions to hold himself out of votes for his fellow appointees, Sessions voted for DeVos on Tuesday.
Without his vote Republicans would not have enough support to achieve the tie DeVos needed for Pence to become the deciding vote on her nomination.
Democrats landed on DeVos as the primary target in their fight against President Donald Trump’s choices for high-level executive positions, criticizing her lack of experience in public education as well as her support for charter schools and publicly funded voucher programs. They also criticized her for refusing to divest business interests they say could cause conflicts of interest.
“Cabinet secretaries can’t be expected to know everything, but this is different,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Monday. “The nominee for secretary of education doesn’t know some of the most basic facts about education policy.”
Democrats held the floor of the Senate from Monday night into Tuesday to speak out against DeVos. They specifically mentioned the overwhelming number of calls, emails and letters they received from their constituents as a major reason for their fierce opposition.
But in the end, despite the Democrats forcing the Republicans to hold a series of procedural votes to slow down the process, Republicans were able to get the simple majority required to put DeVos in office on Tuesday. Changes Democrats made to Senate rules during the Obama administration now require most executive nominees to receive only 51 votes to receive approval.