WASHINGTON – Democrats are mounting a 24-hour blitz to try and sink at least one nomination from President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, attacking education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos a day before her confirmation vote.
Democratic senators promised to stay up all night debating DeVos early into Tuesday morning and also took to Twitter to urge residents to light up Senate phonelines. But Republicans are still expected to narrowly win her approval, with Vice President Mike Pence set to cast the first the tie-breaking vote in history for a Cabinet appointment.
The DeVos fight has become emblematic of the knock-down brawls that Democrats have set for almost all of Trump’s top nominees — dragging out, but ultimately unable to stop their approval.
“The American people are speaking in one loud voice against this nominee. I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘I voted for Donald Trump, but I want you to vote against this nominee,'” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday, kicking off the lengthy, final debate over DeVos.
The secretary for the Department of Education might not the most consequential of positions inside the Trump administration, but the decision by two Republicans — Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — to vote against her and a backlash among liberals angry at Democrats who supported other Trump nominees last month jelled over the weekend into the nastiest battle so far.
Senate Republicans already voted last week against a filibuster of DeVos — setting up a final vote for her Tuesday. But despite the opposition to a filibuster, her nomination could still be spiked if Democrats succeed in winning one more Republican to their side, something Schumer alluded to in his comments.
“I understand the pull of party loyalty. I understand the deference to a new president. But from what we have seen in the first two weeks of this administration, party loyalty is demanding too much of my Republican colleagues,” Schumer said.
With less than a day until the vote, however, it’s unclear who exactly that final vote could be. Democratic groups have focused their efforts on Republicans they see as vulnerable including Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada and Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, both union strongholds. Both Heller and Toomey have released statements in recent days reaffirming their support for DeVos.
The DeVos battle is likely just the start for this week in heated nomination fights — attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions and Health and Human Services pick Tom Price are both awaiting battles in the full Senate. Their formal absence from the White House has been highlighted periodically by Republicans who say they are waiting for a health care plan from the new administration and the continuing battles over the travel ban.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — fresh off his successful strategy of stalling on President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court last year which culminated in conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination last week — blasted Senate Democrats for stalling on Trump’s picks.
“It seems this gridlock and opposition has far less to do with the nominees actually before us than the man who nominated them,” McConnell said Monday. “The Democratic leader and his colleagues are under a great deal of pressure from those on the left who simply cannot accept the results of a democratic election. They’re calling for Democrats to delay and punt and blockade the serious work of the Senate at any cost.”
And Democratic senators themselves — who avoid direct attacks on their Republican colleagues as a matter of professional decorum inside the Capitol — stoked the anger of the base with a series of tweets urging people to light up the Senate phones.
Congress has been bombarded with calls from both sides of the debate, but DeVos’ nomination in particular appears to have sparked much of the anger. Matt House, a spokesman for Schumer, told CNN last week that as many as 1.5 million calls per day have been pouring into the Senate this week about Trump’s nominations in general, according to data from Schumer’s staff. Multiple offices reported that a bulk of messages haves been related to DeVos.
Democrats, backed by public school groups and teachers’ unions, have lambasted her background bankrolling efforts to support opposing ideas like school vouchers. They also latched on to a surprisingly weak performance by DeVos at her confirmation hearing.
For Democratic activists and party leaders still reeling from November, the focus on Trump’s Cabinet picks is a better choice than pointing their ire at Gorsuch, which would draw vulnerable Democrats into the line of fire.
Meanwhile, Republican groups supporting Trump continued their on-air battle to push from the other side, in support of the picks.
“President Trump needs a strong team, his team to make America great again. Don’t let Washington get in the way,” said a narrator for the spot from 45 Committee, a pro-Trump group that has spent $4 million in advertising so far supporting Trump’s Cabinet picks.
The 45 Committee website was taken down Monday after hackers broke in and re-labeled sections of the site “Fake News” and “Make America S****y Again” and scrawled “Black Lives Matter” across one of the pages.
Democratic senators, meanwhile, planned to take their protests through the morning — with a possible protest on the Capitol grounds and lawmakers signing up for shifts to talk against DeVos on the Senate floor.
About 250 protesters, many of them teachers, gathered across the street from the Capitol Monday evening and chanted “Just one more!” — referring to the one more Republican vote they need. Protesters latched onto DeVos’ testimony where she suggested guns may be required on some rural campus to fight off bears. The answer became a viral hit on the left — with one protester dressed in a bear suit Monday and another holding a sign reading, “Betsy DeVos is ‘bearly’ qualified.”
California Senator Kamala Harris took to Twitter Monday to voice her concerns about DeVos. Here’s a collection of her tweets: