World

Vice-President steps in to save Trump's Education Secretary pick

Democrats could only convince two Republican senators to vote against US President's choice

WASHINGTON: The US Senate confirmed billionaire heiress Betsy DeVos as the next secretary of education, after Vice-President Mike Pence cast a historic tie-breaking vote on the deeply-controversial nomination.

The chamber deadlocked at 50-50, with two Republicans breaking ranks to oppose Ms DeVos, a champion of using taxpayer funds to help fund privately run schools.

"The Senate being equally divided, the vice-president votes in the affirmative and the nomination is confirmed," Mr Pence said. It was the first time a vice-president has voted to break a tie for a cabinet pick.

But Mr Pence was needed to salvage Ms DeVos's nomination, which had triggered an outpouring of frustration and anger when President Donald Trump nominated the 59-year-old political scion late last year.

Two moderate Senate Republicans, Ms Susan Collins and Ms Lisa Murkowski, opposed Mr Trump's pick, citing her lack of qualifications for the post that oversees thousands of schools, millions of school children and national curriculum standards.

Democrats were unable to convince another Republican to defect, despite an intense lobbying effort that culminated with an all-night Democratic talk-a-thon on the Senate floor.

More drama was to follow on Mr Trump's attorney general pick, Mr Jeff Sessions.

Senate Democrat Elizabeth Warren's criticism of him led to a very rare reprimand.She was told to sit down for reading a 1986 letter critical of Mr Sessions written by Coretta Scott King, widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The chamber's Republican leader Mitch McConnell interrupted Ms Warren, accusing her of having "impugned" Mr Sessions, a fellow senator.

Mr McConnell invoked Senate Rule 19 that prohibits highly-critical remarks against a senator. When Ms Warren challenged it, the Senate voted along party lines to uphold the ruling.

An exasperated Senator Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, called for a more dignified debate of Mr Trump's nominees and not let the senate "devolve into nothing but a jungle". - AFP

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