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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Senate has its angles to play in the Betsy DeVos vote

Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill

Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., during her confirmation hearing on Jan. 17, 2017. Photo Credit: AP

This week it became a serious question whether and how the Senate will confirm Betsy DeVos as U.S. education secretary -- or make her an exception to the rule.

The rule is that a Republican-run Senate will approve, if not rubber-stamp, the nominees of a Republican White House.

The exception would be voting DeVos down or forcing her to withdraw — which would mark a unique rebuke for President Donald Trump.

If DeVos ends up rejected, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could say his house ruled on the merits -- even if the billionaire nominee has donated millions to his own caucus.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would claim a win for Democratic solidarity and for teacher unions. For the moment, it would eclipse the votes he and other Democrats have cast for other Trump nominees.

Even if DeVos barely scrapes by, as many expect, the Senate still could be seen as signaling Trump that nothing is guaranteed and that the White House cannot always take the legislative branch for granted.

Rest assured, these power angles have at least occurred to Senate leaders, whether they say so or not.

DeVos’ nomination edged into doubtful terrain Wednesday when Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said they would not vote for her.

They became the first GOP senators to decline to back a Trump Cabinet choice.

Now, McConnell is scheduling her confirmation early next week, ahead of that of Sen. Jeff Sessions, who’s expected to vacate his seat to become Trump’s attorney general.

This move leaves Sessions in place for the GOP to reach 50 votes without Collins and Murkowski, then have Vice President Mike Pence cast the tiebreaker to put DeVos over the top.

This assumes no Democrats defect in her favor and that no more Republicans turn away from her.

To set it all up, the Senate gathered in a rare early-morning session on Friday that changed house rules to pave the way for the vote.

The GOP controls the Senate, 52-46, not counting two independents who caucus with Democrats.

DeVos’ candidacy appeals to the Republican side of the perennial school debate. She’s pro-charter school. She’s in favor of tuition vouchers. She’s against rigid civil-service control in public schools.

She helped critics with her widely panned performance last month before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

She refused to agree with Democrats that schools are no place for guns. She reflected no knowledge of relevant disability laws or public-school performance histories.

And she has never been an educator or school administrator.

Rejecting DeVos, though, would most likely prod the Trump administration to nominate someone with a similar overall agenda for the nation’s schools. Republicans might figure that long-term, they may as well accept DeVos.

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