The U.S. Senate could vote as early as Monday on President Donald Trump's choice to be secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, with the looming prospect of a standoff requiring Vice President Mike
Pence to act as the tiebreaker.
On Friday, DeVos cleared a major hurdle when the Senate voted 52-48 to cut off debate on her nomination, setting the stage for a final vote.
DeVos, a billionaire Republican donor, has faced strong opposition for a Cabinet post that usually receives little congressional debate or even public notice. Two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have said they will vote against her nomination, and other Republicans are being bombarded by phone calls and letters from parents and teachers across the country.
If all Senate Democrats vote against her and no other Republicans dissent, Vice President Mike Pence would have to break a 50-50 tie in order for DeVos to be confirmed. Only nine Cabinet nominees in U.S. history have failed to win confirmation.
Opponents of DeVos have accused her of seeking to dismantle public education and divert taxpayer money to charter schools and private school vouchers. Voters have flooded Capitol Hill with calls and emails trying to block her nomination.
DeVos, 59, is the wife of Dick DeVos, heir to the Amway Co. marketing fortune. She has spent more than two decades advocating for charter schools in her home state of Michigan and elsewhere around the country. Her support of anti-LGBT organizations and her advocacy for conservative religious values also have caused concern.
No matter how the Senate vote proceeds, DeVos is off to an uneasy start.
"It's definitely been contentious in an unprecedented way,'' Elizabeth Mann, an education policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, told the Associated Press. "Not having a majority vote when her party controls the Senate and when a member of her party is in the White House does not send a signal of bipartisan support of her agenda.''
But Patrick McGuinn, a professor of political science and education at Drew University, believes DeVos will be confirmed.
"The fact remains that Democrats will have a very difficult time blocking her agenda and actions as education secretary.''