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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

What Democats Won in Fighting Against the DeVos Nomination

Many Democrats are discouraged today, owing to Vice President Pence’s tie-breaking vote, which yesterday secured the confirmation of Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education. It was a tough defeat to accept, with Dems just one vote away from preventing Devos from running the Department of Education.

Making the defeat harder to accept was the fact that DeVos has to be one of the least-qualified of Trump’s cabinet nominees, both in terms of experience and values. This was one of Trump’s most spiteful, ‘in-your-face-Democrats’ nominations. She may be the least qualified Secretary of Education in history. But Democrats did gain something significant from their near-victory. Jim Newell explains it well at slate.com:

Shortly before DeVos’ vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office sent out a list of stats measuring the effort to block DeVos. The number of hours for which Democrats had held the floor consistently to protest (“29 and counting”), the number of contacts to Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey’s office in opposition to DeVos (“Over 100,000”), the total number of calls to Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s office, out of 3,000, that were supportive of DeVos (12), and so on.

But did Schumer ever think there was really a chance to bag that 51st no vote—and to what end did all this activism serve?

“I thought we had some chance,” Schumer said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “We realized even if we didn’t, to make the point that Secretary DeVos is so anti–public education was an important point to make. … And we have an obligation, obviously, to try and overturn some of these nominees who are among the worst Cabinet I have ever seen nominated.”

Some people who took time out of their day to call, write, or protest, or who pledged money to a comical effort to buy senators’ votes, will be disappointed that their efforts didn’t make any difference in the final tally. Schumer’s argument is that the great drama surrounding DeVos’ nomination, and the spectacle of the vice president having to cast the tie-breaking vote on a Cabinet appointee for the first time in history, effectively serves to put DeVos on notice.

“Once we set the table—that Secretary-nominee DeVos is against public education—it will serve to put a magnifying glass on her when she makes a decision,” he said. “So that’s important, too.”

Newell predicts that the rest of Trump’s nominees will all be confirmed. The Republicans have a disciplined, if small, majority. They only had two of their Senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska join with Democrats on the DeVos vote. Nonetheless, adds Newell,

But there’s a reason to fight President Trump’s nominations even if they can’t be derailed. More dissent means more critical stories in the press, means sharper-elbowed hearings, means defensive guarantees made to mollify wobbly senators, means a brighter spotlight on the secretaries once they’re in office. The resistance to Trump is in part about boxing in the people charged with enacting his will. The less latitude the Cabinet can enjoy, the weaker the Trump administration is.

Eventually, most of Trump’s cabinet choices are going to take unpopular actions, which will anger voters, including some Trump supporters  That’s when Democrats who have strongly opposed DeVos and others will be able to point to their records and make a case to defeat Republicans who rubber-stamped what Schumer called, with good reason “the worst cabinet I have ever seen.”

Democrats put up a good, strong fight against the nomination of an extraordinarilly unqualified ideologue to head the government’s most influential educational institution. Four years from now, if not two, many swing voters are going to be looking to see which party truly stands for educational opportunities for their kids, and the record — including the DeVos vote — will speak quite clearly for the Democrats.

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