Hurry up and wait? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the upper chamber into session at 6:30 am today in order to expedite the confirmation vote of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. And of course, when it comes to expediting, there’s no place like the US Senate, right? Right? Er ….
As expected, the chamber split along party lines to proceed to a final vote for DeVos:
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Education, overcame a key Senate hurdle early Friday morning, clearing the path for her expected confirmation.
Senators voted 52-48 to advance DeVos’s nomination. No Democrats voted yes.
Great! So when can we expect a final vote and move on to something else? That, er, depends on how much Democrats want to talk about it, as The Hill explains:
Senate rules require an extra 30 hours of debate before senators can confirm DeVos. If Democrats refuse to yield back time and drag out the procedural clock, they could push a final vote until Tuesday.
The Associated Press headlined it thusly: “Despite opposition from Democrats, Betsy DeVos clears major Senate hurdle to become next education secretary.” Don’t expect Democrats to yield time on the floor to allow DeVos to take over the Department of Education sooner than they can prevent. They’re going to drag this out as long as possible.
The real issue in this confirmation isn’t Democratic opposition, anyway. Harry Reid made sure that Democratic opposition isn’t a hurdle in these confirmations with his nuclear option in 2013 on presidential appointments. The actual problem for DeVos is Senate Republican defections — two of them, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, and the opportunity for a third to tube her nomination altogether. Right now DeVos can win confirmation with the present 50/50 split by having Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote, but if she loses another Republican, she’s finished.
This is why Democrats want to drag this out as long as possible. For one thing, it delays the confirmation vote on Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, because McConnell can’t afford to have an empty seat when the DeVos vote comes up. More importantly, this gives Democrats and their special-interest allies opportunities to find one more vulnerable Republican to pressure into changing their vote. The likeliest target: Nevada’s Dean Heller, whose seat may be the Democrats’ only opportunity to flip in 2018 as it is. Heller’s been strong in his support for DeVos and announced his intention to vote for confirmation on Wednesday, but … he’s about to get the full-court press, and he’s the only target Democrats have at this point.
Tuesday can’t come quickly enough.