Iowa senators supported DeVos in historic confirmation tie-breaker

Protesters speak out in January against Betsy DeVos' nomination for Education Secretary. -- photo by Ted Eytan
Protesters speak out in January against Betsy DeVos’ nomination for Education Secretary. — photo by Ted Eytan via Flickr
Iowa’s two Republican senators cast their votes Tuesday supporting Betsy DeVos as the nation’s education secretary in a confirmation decision that turned into an historic tie, requiring Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Both Iowa senators released statements Tuesday explaining their votes. The statements avoided direct comment on questions of DeVos’ qualifications that had been raised by two of their Republican colleagues in the Senate — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who voted against DeVos — and by tens of thousands of citizens who launched phone and email campaigns to senators nationwide.

The leader of Iowa’s teachers union, meanwhile, called Tuesday’s vote surreal and said she was disappointed that DeVos’ qualifications played such a minimal role in the vote.

“It’s surreal that someone with zero educational background, and no understanding of how public education works, is being charged with taking care of our most vulnerable, our public school students,” said Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association.

Wawro said Iowa’s senators “could have stepped out and said, ‘education is very important in the state of Iowa.'”

Sen. Charles Grassley’s prepared statement on his vote noted that DeVos’ main responsibilities are to implement federal education programs, not oversee public schools.

“She’s made it clear that her job would be to enforce all federal laws as Congress intended. That’s refreshing in light of recent experiences,” he said, describing the previous administration as overreaching to “coerce states to adopt its preferred policies.”

“I look forward to having a U.S. Secretary of Education who recognizes that position’s limited role, enforces federal law, and leaves all other educational decisions to the states, local schools and parents,” he said in the statement.

Sen. Joni Ernst released a video and transcript on her website Tuesday, explaining her vote in favor of DeVos. Ernst described DeVos as sharing her belief that “education should be handled at the state and local level by Iowans, not Washington bureaucrats.”

“She shares the belief that those closest to our students — from parents to teachers to local administrators and local elected officials — know what is best for our students,” Ernst said. “Additionally, she has pledged to fight for all students, including those attending public, private and charter schools and students who require additional support due to developmental, physical or other disabilities. While I support her confirmation, I will be holding her accountable to the standard she has placed upon herself.”