WASHINGTON – Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet took the Senate floor Monday night to urge his colleagues not to confirm Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos to her prospective post as part of a round-the-clock effort by Senate Democrats to block her confirmation.
The Senate’s rules are allowing Democrats to drag out debate on DeVos’ confirmation by staying in session 24 hours a day, which Democrats said Monday they planned to do before a likely vote Tuesday.
DeVos is perhaps the least-likely of cabinet appointees to get the thumbs up from the Senate despite a handful of appointees Democrats have said are unfit for their positions.
She is a wealthy Republican donor who has spent little time involved in public education and who has in the past praised creationist theory in school.
Two Republican senators have already said they would not vote in favor of DeVos, but another Republican vote is likely necessary in order for her confirmation to be blocked.
Vice President Mike Pence would cast a tie-breaking vote in the event senators vote to a 50-50 tie on DeVos.
Sen. Bennet, a Democrat, took the floor Monday around 8 p.m. Eastern Time to say he will vote no on DeVos’ nomination and urged his colleagues to do the same.
“Ms. DeVos has shown no evidence of her commitment to be the torchbearer for both excellence and equity,” Bennet said Monday. “Her ideology and dogmatic approach conveys a lack of understanding and appreciation of the challenges we face and the depths of solutions they demand.”
Before his career in the Colorado and U.S. legislatures, Bennet served as the superintendent for Denver Public Schools. During that time, he stopped budgetary cuts at the district in 2008 and oversaw additional investment in early childhood education and kindergarten.
As a U.S. senator, Bennet sponsored the bipartisan Childcare Development Block Grant bill that helped streamline funding to childhood education programs.
DeVos has publicly supported for-profit charter schools and the privatization of some public schools.
“In Denver, we made a deal: Create a public choice system that authorizes charters, creates innovated schools and strengthens traditional schools,” Bennet said on the Senate floor Monday. “We empowered schools through autonomy and worked to create a system of shared learning and innovation focused on all ships rising.”
During her committee confirmation in January, Bennet said he hadn’t “heard anything that gives [Bennet] confidence that [DeVos] can lead us in the right direction for our kids.” She was confirmed by the committee on a party-line vote.
He doubled down Monday night.
“Ms. DeVos’ testimony and public record failed to establish her commitment or confidence to protect any of these foundational principles,” Bennet said. “Her ‘let 1,000 flowers bloom’ approach asks American schoolchildren to take a huge step backwards to a world without high expectations.”
Bennet is referring to the choice structure DeVos has in the past sought to implement in schools, which would in theory work like capitalism to let bad schools fizzle out.
A spokesperson for Colorado’s other senator, Republican Cory Gardner, said late last week the senator would not issue a statement on his vote until after it occurred. He has not indicated how he will vote, but has so far voted to confirm all new appointees under the Senate’s purview.
Bennet was expected to speak on the floor again around 11 p.m. MT. The floor session is being streamed live on CSPAN. A full transcript of Bennet's earlier remarks can be read on Medium.
The confirmation hearing for Sen. Jeff Sessions, who was tapped for the attorney general position, is expected to draw similar concern from Democrats later this week.