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These two Republican senators could be putting Betsy DeVos’s confirmation in jeopardy

Citizens congregate Monday in front of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander's Memphis office to speak out against Betsy DeVos's nomination as the nation's next secretary of education.
Citizens congregate Monday in front of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander's Memphis office to speak out against Betsy DeVos's nomination as the nation's next secretary of education.
Laura Faith Kebede

Betsy DeVos’s nomination for education secretary may be in jeopardy, after two Republican senators said Wednesday they would vote against her.

But a more likely scenario appears to be that Vice President Mike Pence — whose Indiana voucher program benefitted from the support of DeVos’s political action committee — could cast the deciding vote.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska both said Wednesday that they would not support Devos’s nomination, citing her lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month.

Collins called it a “very difficult decision,” but repeated that she was “troubled and surprised” by DeVos’s apparent lack of familiarity with federal law related to students with disabilities.

“The mission of the Department of Education is broad, but supporting public education is at its core,” Collins said. “I’m concerned that Mrs. DeVos’s lack of experience with public schools will make it difficult for her to fully understand, identify, and assist with these challenges, particularly for our rural schools in states like Maine.”

Their decision leaves a narrow possibility for DeVos to become the first Trump nominee not to be confirmed. Just one additional senator would need to vote against DeVos to derail her nomination — and critics of DeVos across the country are keeping up the pressure by calling and emailing senators whose support is considered vulnerable.

One of those senators, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, ended speculation Wednesday by declaring that he would vote for her.

If no additional Republicans vote against DeVos, and all Democrats do vote against her, she would receive an unusual split vote in the Senate. In that case, Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote — presumably ushering her into office.

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