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Democrats Conduct All-Night Session To Try To Stop DeVos Confirmation


President Trump complains that the Senate is just not moving quickly enough to confirm his Cabinet. Democrats have not had enough votes to block any nominees, so they've been doing whatever they can to just slow down the process, although today they might come as close as they have to blocking a nominee. As we've been reporting this morning, Democrats were on the Senate floor all night opposing the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education. NPR's political editor Domenico Montanaro is on the line with us.

Domenico, good morning.


GREENE: I know both parties often use this keep-everyone-up-all-night tactic. But what are Democrats trying to do here?

MONTANARO: They are trying to delay as long as possible and also show their political base that they are taking on Betsy DeVos. They just need one senator to peel off, one Republican, to be able to stop her nomination. This is sort of the low-hanging fruit for them, and they're trying to pick it off. And even if they don't get it, then they can at least show their base that they did something.

GREENE: OK. So let's look at the numbers here. We have two Republicans who have said they will vote against her, so it looks like this could be 50-50. And then what happens then?

MONTANARO: So then Mike Pence, the vice president, would come in and have to break the tie. It would be the first time in history that you had a vice president have to come in to break the tie. He acts as the presiding president of the Senate. And it's never happened before because it used to have to have 60 votes to get confirmation for these Cabinet secretaries.

GREENE: And that was a decision that Democrats made - right? - to end that process...

MONTANARO: (Laughter).

GREENE: ...So that sort of being punished by their own their own decision-making?

MONTANARO: Ironically, that is true. Republicans had stopped a lot of Barack Obama's lower court picks. Harry Reid, then the majority leader from Nevada, grew increasingly frustrated with the fact that Republicans were obstructing those court nominees, blew up the 60-vote threshold for anything below Supreme Court and legislation. And now it's come back to bite them.

GREENE: And this - part of the amazing thing here is that this is actually holding up the confirmation of the pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Right?

MONTANARO: Correct - because they need the vote. Republicans need that one vote. So because Jeff Sessions is currently a senator from Alabama, they have - they need every vote they could possibly get to get DeVos through, who's highly controversial, obviously. You know, she's a billionaire. Her family donates to a lot of conservative causes. She doesn't have any prior experience in education. She's pro-vouchers. Teachers unions really don't like her.

And because of the really difficult confirmation hearing she had, where she didn't really show a lot of depth of knowledge when it came to the issues related to the Department of Education and Public Education, she was very controversial. That's why you had those two Republicans, Senators Collins of Maine and Murkowski of Alaska, peel off. And let's take a listen to one moment from that hearing that really has come back to haunt her.


BETSY DEVOS: Well, I will refer back to Senator Enzi and the school that he was talking about in Wapiti, Wyo. I would imagine that there is a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.

GREENE: Oh, she said that in response to whether she thinks guns should be allowed in schools. She brought up grizzlies.

MONTANARO: Correct. And "SNL," "Saturday Night Live," wound up doing a take out on her this weekend making her look like she's incompetent and doesn't understand what's happening in the school systems.

GREENE: OK. That is a vote we will be watching. Again, it's a vote over Trump's pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, which could be very, very close.

NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks as always.

MONTANARO: Thanks a lot, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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