#Holdthefloor: Senate Democrats’ All-Night Vigil Against DeVos

Jeff Bryant

This is going down to the wire.

Senate Democrats, channeling public opposition to Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education while venting their own outrage over her lack of qualifications for the job, are occupying the Senate floor for 24 hours ahead of the chamber’s vote on her confirmation at noon.

Every Democrat in the Senate plans to vote against Trump’s nominee, joined by two Republicans. Vice President Mike Pence may cast the tie-breaking and deciding vote in a historical first for a cabinet confirmation.

“Democrats — who planned to stay up through the night debating DeVos’ nomination — made it clear that they weren’t ready to give up the fight,” Education Week reports.

Those who oppose DeVos are urging voters to call their senators this morning and tell them to vote no on DeVos; then make sure to contact colleagues, friends, and family to tell them to call too. The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, is circulating this number to call: 1-855-882-6229.

Check out #holdthefloor on Twitter to get the latest on the Senate Democrats’ vigil.

The unity among the Democratic Party’s senators is no doubt a result of the surge of protests against DeVos that have broken out across the country. A large share of the public perceives DeVos as a threat to a fundamental institution in our country because she and other members of her family have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying campaigns and politicians’ election campaigns to advance her own ideology while disparaging the public schools the vast majority of Americans attend.

“Teachers unions, civil rights advocates, and a ragtag assemblage of other opponents are bombarding congressional offices with tens of thousands of phone calls and more than 1 million emails,” write Caitlin Emma and Austin Wright at Politico.

A newspaper in Nebraska reports 200 people turned out at an anti-DeVos demonstration the weekend before this vote in Omaha to tell their Senator, Republican Deb Fischer, to vote against DeVos.

Crowds came out in Colorado — an event in Fort Collins expecting 200 swelled to 800, and an event in Denver drew over 100 — to tell Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican, to make the switch from yes to no.

Over 200 showed up at a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, to persuade Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, to change her support to oppose DeVos.

In Wichita, Kansas, 100 gathered to convey the same message to Senator Jerry Moran, a Republican.

According to a news outlet in Florida, that state’s Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, have faced “an onslaught of pressure to vote against” DeVos.

In Holland, Michigan, DeVos’s hometown, over 1,000 people held a protest rally last week against her nomination.

Education advocate Sabrina Stevens, a colleague of mine at The Progressive magazine, attended a rally in Washington, D.C. that drew over a thousand.

The effort to support DeVos’s nomination, on the other hand, is barely registering. There’s scant evidence it is anything other than a product of well-funded lobbyists and pressure groups.

As Politico reports, conservative, big money group The Club for Growth “is targeting two red-state Democratic senators with a pair of TV ads about their votes on Betsy DeVos. The ads urge constituents to call Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who are both up for re-election next year, to vote yes on DeVos. Watch the ads here.”

A DailyKos blogger noticed American Federation for Children, a lobbying and advocacy organization DeVos started and helped lead until recently, is paying people to go online to support DeVos. Another pay-to-vote effort financed by AFC has also been spotted on Reddit, according to the Kos blogger, offering “about 40 cents” for a vote for DeVos.

Regardless of how the vote turns out, the effort to oppose DeVos could be a turning point in the ongoing conflict over education policy in the Democratic Party and the nation in general, Stevens observes. “Education advocates have had to fight for years to get other Americans to take attacks on public schools as seriously as we do,” she writes. “Even among progressives, it has been a battle to create a shared consciousness about education issues, which aren’t often as grabby as other causes.”

Given the massive, grassroots turnout to defeat DeVos, Stevens is likely right to conclude that the attack on public education, which DeVos in many ways embodies, has reached a new level of seriousness in the public consciousness. Let’s hope that’s matched by an awakening among political leaders too.

UPDATE 1: Aja Romano at Vox reports that American Federal for Children and DeVos spokespersons deny paying for online ads running at third party sites that pay random users to send a supportive message for the nominee to their senators.

UPDATE 2: With Pence casting a tie-breaking and deciding vote, the Senate voted 51-50 to confirm DeVos.

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