Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced Wednesday she will vote “no” on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos to be Education secretary. Her decision follows intense pressure from her constituents, who have flooded her office with emails, calls and visitors. But Alaska’s two U.S. senators are split over DeVos.
Murkowski, in a speech on the Senate floor, said thousands of Alaskans have asked her to vote against the nominee.
“And their concerns center, as mine do, on Mrs. DeVos’s lack of experience with public education and the lack of knowledge that she portrayed in her confirmation hearing,” Murkowski said.
DeVos, a Michigan billionaire, has been a champion of school choice and vouchers. The National Education Association and other teachers’ unions are campaigning against her. They and other opponents say DeVos would dismantle public education by funneling government dollars to private, religious and for-profit schools.
In much of Alaska, Murkowski says, there is no alternative school and students need the public school system to operate at its best. The senator announced she’ll vote “no” a day after she voted “yes” in the Senate Education Committee to advance the nomination to the full Senate. Murkowski says that’s in keeping with her practice on cabinet nominees.
“It’s confusing to some who say ‘Well wait a minute: you let her move through committee but then you vote against her. How does that all work?’ I think you need to put it in context with how I have handled all presidents’ nominees to this point in time,” Murkowski said.
She says in her Senate career, she has only voted against one nominee in committee, because she says, he wasn’t honest with her.
“Mrs. DeVos didn’t lie to me,” Murkowski said. “She was honest with her answers. I didn’t like her answers because they didn’t give me the depth and breadth of experience that I want for a secretary.”
Murkowski’s floor speech came right after another Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said she won’t support DeVos either. DeVos opponents are now looking to pick off one more Republican vote, which would kill the appointment, assuming Senate Democrats are united against her.
Great Alaska Schools co-founder Alyse Galvin says Murkowski has restored her faith.
“This is great news to us,” said Galvin, who helped organize a demonstration at Murkowski’s Anchorage office this week. “This is our biggest sign that she is listening to her constituents after all, at least on this vote. And we hope that she shares what she knows with Sen. Sullivan.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan, though, announced Wednesday evening he’s voting for DeVos. In a written statement, Sullivan said he shares Murkowski’s concerns but is convinced DeVos cares deeply about kids and that she will return decision-making back to the local level.