Maine’s U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Tuesday she has concerns about President Trump’s nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and may not vote for her confirmation when it goes before the full Senate.
Over the past two days, Collins has emerged as one of a handful of Republican voices who have opposed some aspects of Trump’s agenda. She expressed opposition to his immigration order, his shakeup of the National Security Council and the omission of any mention of Jews in his Holocaust remembrance statement.
Collins and fellow Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who also serves on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said they had reservations about DeVos and would not necessarily support her in the full confirmation vote. It was the first time any Republican senators have indicated they might oppose her.
However, both senators voted with their colleagues on the committee to endorse the nomination and send it to the Senate. The party-line vote was 12-11.
Collins, Maine’s senior senator, explained to her colleagues that she was doing so because “presidents are entitled to considerable deference in the selection of Cabinet members regardless of which political party is in power.” She noted that she had voted two of then-President Obama’s nominees out of committee, even though she opposed the nominations on the Senate floor.
She said in committee that she was concerned about DeVos’ lack of familiarity with a key federal law that requires states to provide appropriate education to disabled children, and she wanted to look into her commitment to enforce such laws. “I was surprised and concerned about Mrs. DeVos’ apparent lack of familiarity with the landmark 1975 law,” Collins said. “I will continue to evaluate this nomination before it comes to the floor for a vote.”
COLLINS SECURES DEVOS PLEDGE
DeVos, a billionaire Michigan philanthropist, is a champion of charter schools who favors using taxpayer dollars to pay for private and parochial school tuition via vouchers. Maine’s other senator, independent Angus King, has already announced he will vote against DeVos because of her lack of commitment to public education.
Collins said she also was concerned that DeVos’ focus on vouchers and charter schools suggested she might not appreciate that the education secretary’s primary focus is to help strengthen public schools. Collins revealed that she had sent DeVos a letter Jan. 24 relaying the concerns of rural Maine educators that vouchers would divert scarce resources away from public schools, and asking if she would oppose any federal mandate requiring states to adopt a voucher program. DeVos responded the next day that she would not impose a school choice program on any state or school district.
Republicans have a 52-48 edge in the Senate, meaning three Republicans and all the Democrats would have to vote against DeVos for her to be denied confirmation. Vice President Mike Pence would cast a vote to break a tie.
Murkowski, echoing Collins, said of DeVos, “I would advise she not yet count on my vote.”
The president of Maine’s largest teachers union, the Maine Education Association, was pleased with Collins’ statements.
“The fact that Collins is willing to keep an open mind about this is a really positive thing, because ultimately we are going to find more and more things and positions that DeVos has had that would impact on the decision,” said Lois Kilby-Chesley. “We want people to look at this not as a partisan piece, but as whether or not the individual is best for the students of Maine and across the country.”
OPPOSING OTHER TRUMP INITIATIVES
Tuesday was not the first time Collins has gone against Trump’s actions over the past few days.
She told Maine Public radio Monday that she supported a federal judge’s stay of Trump’s immigration order because it “clearly had not been vetted by the usual channels to make sure it that it was not overly broad, and was workable.”
The order, which imposes a ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and suggests that preferences would be given to non-Muslims from those countries in the future, triggered large protests at airports across the country, widespread rebuke from civil rights advocates and public officials, and led to the firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she told Justice Department lawyers not to defend the president’s order.
“There should never, never be a religious test for refugee status, and people practicing a particular religion should not be subject to a higher burden of proof than those who adhere to another religion,” Collins said. “And I believe it’s likely unconstitutional.”
She also said it was “entirely inappropriate” of the president to appoint his chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, to the National Security Council, while reducing the involvement of the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Bannon previously headed Breitbart News, a conservative media outlet aligned with the white supremacist movement, and once told a reporter for the Daily Beast that his goal was “to destroy the state” and “bring everything crashing down.”
PLANNED PARENTHOOD, HEALTH CARE
Collins also tweeted Monday that Trump’s decision to exclude any reference to Jews in his statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day was a “historical mistake.”
Trump has come under fire by some Jewish organizations for the statement, which the White House has defended.
Previously, Collins said she opposed plans to defund Planned Parenthood, a key Republican goal, saying the move to strip the organization of $400 million in federal funding would jeopardize health care for thousands of women.
She has also said she’s unlikely to support Republican efforts to privatize Medicare, and that she might not vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, saying that could leave millions without health insurance. Collins, along with Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, has proposed an alternative health care bill that would leave parts of the ACA intact.
Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at: