President Donald Trump’s controversial nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has been confirmed by the Senate by slenderest possible margin.
Vice-President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote to secure her cabinet role, splitting the chamber 50-50.
It was the first time ever that a vice-president has interceded in such a way for a cabinet secretary.
Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who has no experience with public schools, faced a rocky confirmation hearing last month.
Immediately after voting ended, she tweeted: “I appreciate the Senate’s diligence & am honored to serve as @usedgov Secretary.
“Let’s improve options & outcomes for all US students.”
Image source EPA
On February 7, Senate Democrats staged a 24-hour debate to hold up her confirmation.
They hoped their all-night speaking marathon would pressure more Republican senators to oppose the nomination, but their efforts were in vain.
Mike Pence was also the first vice-president to cast a deciding vote in the Senate since 2008, when Dick Cheney voted on a tax adjustment plan.
No Democrats voted in favor of Betsy DeVos. Two Republican senators stood by their plan to oppose her confirmation, leaving the Senate in a deadlock.
Critics say Betsy DeVos is unqualified to run the Department of Education.
The 59-year-old faced intense scrutiny before a Senate committee in January, when she made headlines for noting that a Wyoming school might need a gun to defend against grizzly bears.
Labor unions, rights groups and teaching organizations have also spoken out against her nomination.
Groups including the American Federation of Teachers and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights held protests against Betsy DeVos outside of Congress on February 6.
She is a wealthy Republican Party donor and a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman who has long campaigned for education reform in the state.
Betsy DeVos is a champion of charter schools, which are publicly funded but operate outside state school systems.
Her husband Dick DeVos was a chief executive of the beauty and nutrition giant Amway and her brother is Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial private security company Blackwater.
Betsy DeVos is among several of Donald Trump’s cabinet picks whom Democrats have been trying to block from being approved.
Democrats said in January they would target eight of Donald Trump’s nominees based on their lack of qualifications and policy positions.
According to the Washington Post, before Betsy DeVos’ approval, just six of Donald Trump’s cabinet picks had been confirmed, compared with former President Barack Obama’s 12 cabinet secretaries at this point in 2009 and 16 of George W. Bush’s in 2001.
The slowed process is also partly due to the fact that some of Donald Trump’s picks have not completed a lengthy vetting process typically required of Cabinet candidates, which helps identify potential conflicts of interest.
Hundreds of staff positions also remain vacant as the fate of 15 of Trump administration’s nominees hangs in the balance.
Donald Trump’s team has become embroiled in a fresh war of words with the media.
On January 21, President Trump had condemned media reporting of the number of people attending his inauguration.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said there was “an obsession… to de-legitimize this president. We’re not going to sit around and take it.”
However, photos show more people attended the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009.
Reince Priebus said on Fox News Sunday that the “media from day one has been talking about de-legitimizing the election”. He said Donald Trump’s presidency would fight such coverage “tooth and nail every day”.
The latest row was mainly sparked by the inauguration figures.
There were no official estimates. President Trump said during a visit to the CIA on January 21 that it “looked like a million and a half people”, but provided no evidence. He called reporters “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth” for saying it was far lower.
Image source CNBC
Donald Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer outlined figures amounting to 720,000 people in Washington’s National Mall, despite also saying that “no-one had numbers” for the inauguration.
Sean Spicer also said it was the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe”.
Many outlets, using photos of the National Mall showing the difference in numbers attending the 2009 inauguration and Donald Trump’s, hit out at Sean Spicer’s statements.
The New York Times denounced “false claims” and described the statements as a “striking display of invective and grievance at the dawn of a presidency”.
Both CNN and ABC News went into detail to refute Sean Spicer’s claims.
Donald Trump’s aide Kellyanne Conway also criticized the media in a feisty exchange on NBC.
Kellyanne Conway was challenged by Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press to say why Sean Spicer’s first appearance had been to “utter a probable falsehood”.
“If we are going to keep referring to our press secretary in those type of terms, I think we are going to have to rethink our relationship here,” she said.
Pressed on Sean Spicer’s claims, Kellyanne Conway said he had been presenting “alternative facts”.
“Alternative facts are not facts they are falsehoods,” Chuck Todd replied.
Kellyanne Conway insisted there was “no way to really quantify crowds” and, taking offence at a laugh from the reporter, said: “You can laugh at me all you want. It’s symbolic of the way we are treated by the press the way you just laughed at me.”
She also highlighted another issue that caused friction with the media – the Time Magazine reporter who incorrectly reported that a bust of civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office. The reporter later apologized for the error.
On January 22, Donald Trump tweeted about TV ratings of the inauguration, saying that 31 million people had watched, 11 million more than four years ago.
The president also referred to January 21 protests that saw millions in the US and hundreds of thousands around the globe take to the streets in some 600 demonstrations against his presidency.
Donald Trump’s initial tweet said he was “under the impression that we just had an election”, asking: “Why didn’t these people vote?”
A later tweet said that “peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy”.