Despite voting against confirming Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary in the Senate vote on Tuesday, Sen. Susan Collins’ earlier vote in committee in support of DeVos’s nomination was one of the deciding votes in allowing the controversial billionaire’s confirmation to move on to a vote in the full Senate. And, after the Senate split 50-50 on the nomination on Tuesday, with Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska the only Republicans voting with Democrats, Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote, confirming DeVos. 

A longtime Republican donor, DeVos has drawn intense criticism for her lack of experience or credentials in education,  her efforts to bankroll school privatization efforts and her investments in private and charter schools. The billionaire philanthropist, whose husband is the co-founder of Amway, made headlines during her confirmation hearing for reports that she appeared to have plagiarized her answers to questions and for suggesting that having guns in schools would be useful in fighting grizzly bears. Collins’ Maine offices were reportedly flooded with calls and letters from constituents opposing DeVos’s nomination. 

Facing unified opposition from Democrats, last week Collins voted on party lines with the 11 other Republican members on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to allow DeVos’s confirmation to proceed to a full vote. DeVos’s nomination made it out of committee by just one vote. In floor remarks, Collins said she voted for DeVos in committee because she thought the nominee deserved a full vote of the Senate, but she said she couldn’t vote for her on the final vote.



“The mission of the Department of Education is broad, but supporting public education is at its core,” said Collins. “I’m concerned that Mrs. DeVos’s lack of experience with public schools will make it difficult for her to fully understand, identify and assist with those challenges, particularly for our rural schools in states like Maine.”

However, Republicans privately told a reporter that Collins waited to announce her opposition to DeVos until Republicans knew they had the votes to secure DeVos’s confirmation, according to Politico magazine. “[DeVos] has the votes and will be confirmed,” a senior GOP aide told Politico last week.

In the end, Collins voted to support DeVos when it mattered — in committee — and opposed her when it didn’t — the final Senate vote. 

Independent Sen. Angus King had clearly announced his opposition to the DeVos confirmation weeks ago and proceeded to vote against DeVos’s confirmation on Tuesday. “After following her confirmation hearing closely and after a great deal of consideration,” said King in a statement, “last month I concluded that I could not support Ms. DeVos because I was concerned that she wouldn’t be a strong advocate for public education, that she lacked the necessary knowledge to lead the Department, and indeed, that she was hostile to the fundamental mission of the Department.”