Normally, one assumes that the Attorney General position takes priority over the Secretary of Education when filling out a Cabinet. For the Trump Adminstration, however, their Attorney General nominee, Senator Jeff Sessions, has votes to spare for a final confirmation vote, and their Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, does not. With both Murkowski and Collins as nays, joining the forty-eight Democrats and Independents already opposed to her, Mrs. DeVos can only win a confirmation vote now if every remaining Republican votes aye- including Sessions, who was recommended by the Judiciary committee yesterday.
With every remaining Republican voting yes, Vice President Mike Pence can cast a tie-breaking vote, and she is confirmed 51 to 50. But had Senator Sessions been confirmed ahead of DeVos, and the Governor of Alabama not yet replaced him when the DeVos vote came forward, they would lack the votes to push her through. Making an educated guess of yesterday’s events, between the committee vote on DeVos and their public statements on the Senate floor yesterday, Senators Collins and Murkowski probably notified the Senate Majority Leader of their intentions not to support her. McConnell quickly pushed for a motion to advance her nomination immediately after the Tillerson vote. Both Collins and Murkowski, despite declaring a final nay vote, voted to advance the nomination. They will probably vote for cloture as well on Friday. This gives Sessions the chance to vote yes, and, assuming all remaining Republicans stand their ground, the nomination will be confirmed.
But the headache for the Majority Leader has not stopped with DeVos: Mick Mulvaney’s nomination could now be in jeopardy. Senator John McCain voted to move him out of committee, but stressed at that meeting today he still had serious doubts in supporting him. These concerns mimic the tone that both Murkowski and Collins used in their committee vote on DeVos, and with their walkaway on that nomination, McCain could be leaning as a no. So far he is the only Republican who has vocally expressed that, which means that, for now, Sessions is expendable. But if another steps forward, especially with the committee’s motion to report without recommendation, Rep. Mulvaney finds himself in the same boat as Mrs. DeVos. This could push Sessions’ inevitable swearing-in by almost a week, assuming that Democrats and activists can’t termite Republican support for Tom Price too.