The US Senate has narrowly confirmed President Trump’s pick for education secretary—Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos— in a nearly evenly divided vote.
The long-time Republican donor split the senate 50-50, with Vice-President Mike Pence casting the deciding vote—the first time in history a vice president has done so to confirm a president’s cabinet pick.
The entire Democratic caucus voted against DeVos, with senators speaking on the floor in the 24 hours leading up to the vote, in the hopes of derailing the confirmation.
Washington senator and Democrat Patty Murray questioned DeVos’ credentials.
“Is this a knowledgeable candidate who understands the federal law? Is this a candidate who comes to us without conflicts of interest? Is this a candidate who is willing to stand up and be the defender of all young children in the schools?
“To me, and I think to many of my colleagues who have been out here speaking, she is not.”
Two Republican senators—Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) voted ‘no’, saying they did not think DeVos was qualified.
LGBT advocacy groups are concerned that by DeVos’ track record of donating to anti-LGBT causes. The new education secretary’s family foundation has previously donated more than $10 million to ‘Focus on the Family’, a pro-life Christian organisation that advocates for gay conversion therapy.
Devos has denied that she has any authority within her family’s foundation and denied believing in conversion therapy.
“I’ve never believed in that… first of all, let me say I fully embrace equality and I believe in the innate value of every single human being and that all students, no matter their age, should be able to attend a school and feel safe and be free of discrimination,” DeVos said in one confirmation hearing.
According to Michigan-based LGBT publication Pride Source, DeVos and her husband donated more than $200,000 to a campaign to pass an anti-gay marriage ballot referendum in the state.
DeVos’ mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, was a major contributor to Proposition 8, which made same-sex marriage illegal in California.
Vice-president of government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign David Stacy says he is deeply concerned for the safety of LGBT students.
“She is now charged with ensuring that LGBTQ students around the country are able to go to school in a safe environment where they can learn without compromising who they are,” says Stacy.
“We hope our substantial concerns about her commitment to maintaining and advancing protections for LGBTQ students are disproven by her actions. But, if instead she moves to roll back legal protections or fails to enforcement them, we will fight every step of the way to ensure LGBTQ students are safe and respected in their schools.”