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Politics & Policy

Why Are Liberals Surprised by the Senate Confirmation of DeVos?

Have you talked to your liberal friends who don’t follow politics today? What’s surprising are the number of liberals who seem genuinely surprised — and shocked and horrified and enraged and all kinds of other emotions — about the fact that 50 out of 52 Senate Republicans voted to confirm Betsy DeVos as education secretary.

Start with the fact that Republican senators are going to be naturally inclined to confirm a Republican president’s nominees. Move on to the fact that DeVos has spent her career working for school choice, and most Republican senators strongly support school choice.

I know this may shock you, my friends on the left, but most Senate Republicans don’t particularly care how much teachers’ unions furiously denounce DeVos. The teacher’s unions are among the biggest financial supporters of Democrats. Opposition from teachers’ unions is a given for just about every Senate Republicans; there’s no point in trying to reach out, build bridges, or reach compromise with someone who is determined to defeat you when your term is up.

Republican senators didn’t find DeVos’s belief that states and localities should set laws for guns in and around schools inherently disqualifying, and didn’t find her comment about grizzly bears around schools in Wyoming so laughably absurd.

Senate Republicans don’t particularly care if Kate McKinnon imitated DeVos on Saturday Night Live and it was “glorious.” They don’t care that she was ridiculed by Jimmy Kimmel and Trevor Noah. Any Republican secretary of education nominee is going to be ridiculed by Jimmy Kimmel and Trevor Noah. Oh, there was a Facebook meme about Betsy DeVos that was shared a lot? That’s not the sort of thing that persuades a senator. (I see one of the disqualifying criticisms is DeVos “never put her children in a public school.” Neither did President Obama.)

What, the likes of Pat Toomey and Rob Portman, having just won reelection to a six-year term, should begin by alienating everyone who worked so hard to help them win reelection, and hand a victory to everybody who just spent the past two years trying to defeat them? Have you guys ever watched anything in politics ever before?

If a lot of Republicans in Virginia or New York or California had called up their senators’ offices urging a vote in favor of DeVos, do you think that Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Dianne Feinstein, or Kamala Harris would have changed their minds?

Eight years ago, most Republican senators voted for most of President Obama’s nominees. The only nominees who faced significant opposition were Tim Geithner (34 votes), Kathleen Sebelius (31 votes), and Eric Holder (21 votes). Only six of Obama’s picks required more than a voice vote. (There were 41 Republican senators at that time.)

Did that bipartisan outreach and conciliatory approach pay off for Republican senators? Did any liberal or progressive organization or voice salute those senators for their willingness to confirm President Obama’s choices and get them on the job as quickly as possible? No, of course not. Ask a liberal today and they’ll insist the Senate Republicans were the most “obstructionist” opposition party of all time.

In an environment where no outreach across the aisle is rewarded by the opposition, why are you surprised that there’s so little of it?

In a highly charged partisan political environment, it takes a lot to get a senator to vote against their own party. Liberals want Republican senators to defy the Trump administration, but there’s no particular upside for that senator. It’s not like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s going to give them a pass, it’s not like grassroots progressives won’t try to knock them out of office, it’s not like any praise from the news or entertainment wings of the media will be lasting or consequential. (Ask Jim Jeffords, Arlen Specter, or Charlie Crist.)

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