South Carolina’s senators helped push Betsy DeVos over the finish line on Tuesday.
Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, and Tim Scott, R-North Charleston, both cast their votes for President Donald Trump’s controversial choice for education secretary. Tuesday’s contentious confirmation vote required Vice President Mike Pence to cast an historic tie-breaking vote to confirm DeVos 51-50.
DeVos became a lightning rod over her support for private school choice programs, answers in her confirmation hearing that seemed to betray a lack of understanding of federal education policy, and accusations of plagiarism.
Her nomination drew opposition from the S.C. School Boards Association who worried she would not be supportive of public education. Opponents launched a massive phone campaign against the nomination, and protesters also targeted the senators’ South Carolina offices over the vote.
But in the end, both Graham and Scott voted with all but two Republican senators to confirm DeVos.
While noting he is a product of public schools, Graham said, “I strongly believe a President deserves a Cabinet of their choosing.”
“Mrs. DeVos has been involved in education reform for decades,” Graham said. “She will bring a new perspective to ensure every child can attend a school that prepares them for the future.”
Scott wrote in a column defending his choice to support DeVos that favoring school choice doesn’t mean wanting to tear down public schools, but to “make every school perform better.”
“I know the challenges facing so many low-income and minority students,” Scott wrote. “I have come to the conclusion that we need to ensure students and their families have a variety of educational options at their disposal.”
Scott followed up with a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, arguing “We need to make sure that every child in every zip code has a quality choice.”
DeVos is expected to be sworn in later on Tuesday.