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betsy devos

President Donald Trump’s controversial nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has been confirmed by the Senate by slenderest possible margin.

Vice-President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote to secure her cabinet role, splitting the chamber 50-50.

It was the first time ever that a vice-president has interceded in such a way for a cabinet secretary.

Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who has no experience with public schools, faced a rocky confirmation hearing last month.

Immediately after voting ended, she tweeted: “I appreciate the Senate’s diligence & am honored to serve as @usedgov Secretary.

“Let’s improve options & outcomes for all US students.”

Image source EPA

On February 7, Senate Democrats staged a 24-hour debate to hold up her confirmation.

They hoped their all-night speaking marathon would pressure more Republican senators to oppose the nomination, but their efforts were in vain.

Mike Pence was also the first vice-president to cast a deciding vote in the Senate since 2008, when Dick Cheney voted on a tax adjustment plan.

No Democrats voted in favor of Betsy DeVos. Two Republican senators stood by their plan to oppose her confirmation, leaving the Senate in a deadlock.

Critics say Betsy DeVos is unqualified to run the Department of Education.

The 59-year-old faced intense scrutiny before a Senate committee in January, when she made headlines for noting that a Wyoming school might need a gun to defend against grizzly bears.

Labor unions, rights groups and teaching organizations have also spoken out against her nomination.

Groups including the American Federation of Teachers and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights held protests against Betsy DeVos outside of Congress on February 6.

She is a wealthy Republican Party donor and a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman who has long campaigned for education reform in the state.

Betsy DeVos is a champion of charter schools, which are publicly funded but operate outside state school systems.

Her husband Dick DeVos was a chief executive of the beauty and nutrition giant Amway and her brother is Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial private security company Blackwater.

Betsy DeVos is among several of Donald Trump’s cabinet picks whom Democrats have been trying to block from being approved.

Democrats said in January they would target eight of Donald Trump’s nominees based on their lack of qualifications and policy positions.

According to the Washington Post, before Betsy DeVos’ approval, just six of Donald Trump’s cabinet picks had been confirmed, compared with former President Barack Obama’s 12 cabinet secretaries at this point in 2009 and 16 of George W. Bush’s in 2001.

The slowed process is also partly due to the fact that some of Donald Trump’s picks have not completed a lengthy vetting process typically required of Cabinet candidates, which helps identify potential conflicts of interest.

Hundreds of staff positions also remain vacant as the fate of 15 of Trump administration’s nominees hangs in the balance.

Donald Trump has unveiled the names of the first women in his incoming administration.

Betsy DeVos has been nominated as education secretary and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as US envoy to the UN.

Both of them are former critics of Donald Trump, with Nikki Haley once saying she was “not a fan”, and Betsy DeVos branding the Manhattan tycoon an “interloper”.

Donald Trump’s presidential primary rival Ben Carson also hinted he would soon be named for a post.

Ben Carson wrote on Facebook: “An announcement is forthcoming about my role in helping to make America great again.”

Photo AP

Photo AP

Donald Trump tweeted on November 22 that he was “seriously considering” Ben Carson for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The appointments of Nikki Haley and Betsy DeVos will need to be approved by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Donald Trump called Nikki Haley “a proven dealmaker, and we look to be making plenty of deals”.

“She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage,” he added.

Nikki Haley, 44, said she was “moved” to accept the assignment and would stay on as South Carolina governor, pending her congressional confirmation.

During the Republican primaries, Nikki Haley supported Florida Senator Marco Rubio and then Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

She also strongly attacked Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigrants, describing it as “un-American”.

In response, Donald Trump had called her “very weak on illegal immigration” and said people in South Carolina were “embarrassed” by her.

Nikki Haley is the first minority and female governor of South Carolina.

Born Nimrata “Nikki” Randhawa to Indian parents, Nikki Haley was raised in a Sikh household and now identifies as a Christian.

She was praised by members of both parties in 2015 when she ordered the Confederate battle flag to be removed from the grounds of the state capitol.

Betsy DeVos said she was honored to accept her appointment.

The billionaire Republican donor from Michigan once described Donald Trump as an “interloper” who “does not represent the Republican Party”.

Betsy DeVos also contributed to Donald Trump’s rivals – Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush – during the election race.

She previously supported the Common Core education standards that Donald Trump and many conservatives have pilloried.

Donald Trump, however, said Betsy DeVos would be “a brilliant and passionate education advocate”.

Betsy DeVos’ husband is heir to the Amway fortune, with a wealth estimated by Forbes at $5.1 billion.

So far, Donald Trump has appointed Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, Mike Pompeo for CIA director, Reince Priebus for Chief of Staff for his top team.

More announcements are expected after the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday weekend.