Betsy DeVos
Credit: C-SPAN/Screengrab

I attended public schools. My son attends a public school. I think public schools are important. For these reasons, I’d oppose making Betsy DeVos the Secretary of Education for purely policy reasons. But she’s witless and incompetent, and that’s presumably why her nomination is opposed by Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine. The rumor is that she’s so transparently awful that every Democratic senator will oppose her when a vote comes up on the full floor of the Senate.

If you do some basic math, the 48 senators who caucus with the Democrats plus the two dissenting Republican senators adds up to fifty. In the case of a 50-50 tie, Vice-President Mike Pence could cast a tie-breaking vote and DeVos would still be confirmed. However, that depends on Collins and Murkowski being the only dissenters. It also depends on the vote of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of Alabama.

As a result, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell now needs to schedule the DeVos vote before he schedules the vote to confirm Sessions as our new Attorney General. Once Sessions is confirmed, he will no longer be a senator and therefore the split in the Senate would be reduced from a 52-48 to a 51-48 majority. In that case, DeVos would lose the vote 49-50 rather than there being a tie that Pence could break.

Of course, once Sessions’s seat comes open, a temporary replacement will be announced by the Republican governor of Alabama. States have different rules for filling Senate vacancies, but Alabama does allow the governor to appoint an “interim appointee.” However, the state also requires a Special Election.

A Special Election must be held on such a day as the governor may direct, unless vacancy occurs between 2 and 4 months before the next regularly-scheduled general election, in which case it is held at that election. If vacancy occurs within 60 days of the next regularly-scheduled general election, a special election must be held on the first Tuesday after 60 days have elapsed since the vacancy occurred.

Assuming Sessions is confirmed, the vacancy will occur more than 2 to 4 months before the next general election. I take the above language to mean that the governor must promptly schedule a special election to fill the seat and that there must be at least 60 days for people to campaign. So, whoever serves as the interim senator may have a very brief tenure. Presumably, they’d be willing to vote for DeVos, but I guess that isn’t completely assured.

I don’t think there will much delay in the announcement of an interim replacement for Sessions, but it could take a few days.

It doesn’t seem right for Sessions to stick around in the Senate only to cast a vote for DeVos, but that’s probably what will now happen. He’ll vote for her and then expect the Senate to vote for him.

I won’t say that DeVos’s confirmation is in peril, but it is now something less than assured.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at