Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski broke with the rest of the party last week when they said they would vote "no" at Betsy Devos' confirmation vote. The two Republicans' "no" votes meant the GOP's 52-48 Senate majority alone would not be sufficient to secure Devos' position within US President Donald Trump's cabinet, thus requiring Pence to invoke his tie-breaking authority.
Aside from Collins and Murkowski, every other senator voted along party lines.
Democrats rounded up a last-ditch effort to prevent Devos from leading the Department of Education by holding a 24-hour rally on the Senate floor on Monday. They burned the midnight oil on the floor of the Senate all night long in an attempt to sway one more Republican to vote against Devos' nomination. This was not a fillibuster, however, which obstructs a vote from taking place.
Senate Democrats did not show up for the vote, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell requested that quorum not be mandatory. Pence, whose vice presidency grants him presidency over the Senate, approved the motion.
Devos' candidacy became controversial after an awkward Senate hearing caused senators to request Devos return for a more questioning. It never happened.
The Devos family has poured at least $200 million into conservative causes, according to a 2014 Mother Jones analysis. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders asked "I have heard the number is $200 million, does that sound in the ballpark?" Devos replied, "collectively, between my family, that's possible."
However, in a 1997 article published in Roll Call, Devos wrote, "I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the single largest contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party," according to Jane Mayer's book "Dark Money."
Sanders' worry that Devos' ascension symbolizes a step toward oligarchy was just the beginning of the fireworks. New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan asked Devos about her involvement in the Prince Foundation, a group which has supported 'conversion therapy' for gays. Devos insisted that she did not sit on the board of the Prince Foundation, but according to a 990 filing, Devos was the organization's vice president.
— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) January 18, 2017
Hassan pushed Devos on the 990 documents, but Devos argued it was a "clerical error." Alternatively, she lied to the Senate, as The Intercept suggests, which is a federal felony.
Devos also suggested guns should be allowed in schools, pointing out that in some schools there are grizzly bears roaming the area.
The Woppity, Wyoming school does have a grizzlies ranging around, but it uses bear spray and fences, not guns, for protection. "We don't allow guns on school property," said Ray Schulte, the school's superintendent.
The vice president's authority to cast the tie-breaking vote has spurred controversy for as long as America has had a constitution. Several framers of the constitution ended up refusing to sign the constitution due to concerns that the VP's ability to break a tie in the senate violated the separation of powers doctrine. President James Madison's number two, Vice President Elbridge T. Gerry asserted that the framers of the constitution "might as well put the President himself as head of the legislature."
John Adams, the first vice president, cast a ballot in the Senate 29 times while seventh VP John Calhoun voted 28 times. Since the 1870s, no vice president has logged more then ten votes in the senate.