Toomey affirms support for DeVos ahead of vote

David Weissman
505-5431/@DispatchDavid
  • Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., says he will vote in favor of Betsy DeVos for secretary of Dept. of Ed.
  • Two GOP senators have said they will oppose DeVos, but Democrats need one more to cross aisle.
  • Many have reported issues with reaching Toomey, and weekly rallies have begun outside his offices.

Those opposing Department of Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos are searching for one more Republican to cross the aisle, but Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey doesn't appear to be the answer.

Senator Pat Toomey, speaks during his press conference at Strinestown Fire Company Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. Amanda J. Cain photo

Toomey sent out a statement Thursday saying he will vote to confirm DeVos.

"Betsy DeVos has spent nearly three decades of her life, tens of millions of dollars, and considerable personal energy toward one noble goal: ensuring that poor children trapped in failing schools have the same opportunities that wealthy and middle-class kids already have," Toomey said in the statement.

He praised DeVos' work to expand charter schools and school choice.

“Because of Betsy’s work to expand charter schools, virtual schools, school choice, tuition tax credits, and education savings accounts, hundreds of thousands of children who had been trapped in failing schools have been able to access a quality education," he said.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins, of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, both said recently they cannot support DeVos, a wealthy Republican donor and school choice activist, according to The Associated Press.

If all other GOP senators support DeVos and all Democrats oppose her, she would end up with a 50-50 vote in the Senate and Vice President Mike Pence would have to break the tie to confirm her.

Casey: Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said in a statement two weeks ago that he would not support DeVos because of her lack of public school experience and her refusal to commit to enforcing campus sexual assault laws, among other concerns.

Jacklin Rhoads, a spokeswoman in Casey's office, wrote in an email Thursday that Casey knows each member of the Senate needs to make their own decision based on their own views.

"He doesn’t appreciate when his colleagues tell him how to vote, so in turn he doesn’t tell them how to vote," she wrote.

Protesters gather outside of the Federal Building for a #TuesdaysWithToomey protest Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in Harrisburg. Amanda J. Cain photo

Despite Toomey's decision, plenty of constituents are still trying to influence his vote.

A series of rallies called Tuesdays with Toomey have been held the past two weeks at his seven offices around the state. Each rally has a central issue they hope to bring to the senator's attention, and the first week was aimed against DeVos.

Harrisburg protest urges Toomey to protect ACA

Calls unanswered: Organizers of the rally in Harrisburg this week said the gatherings started because their many calls to Toomey's offices have gone unanswered, and the voicemail boxes are full, so showing up at his offices was their best shot at being heard.

The York Dispatch attempted on Thursday afternoon to reach each of Toomey's seven state offices and his office in Washington, D.C. Four of the phone lines rang before being directed to filled voicemail boxes. The other four phone lines did not ring and just resulted in busy signals.

E.R. Anderson, a spokeswoman for Toomey's office, wrote in an email that many Pennsylvanians are calling their offices with myriad concerns.

"Sen. Toomey’s staff in Pennsylvania — 25 people in seven offices across the state — are doing everything they can to answer as many calls as possible," she wrote, "while also attending to other responsibilities, such as helping veterans and senior citizens get their benefits and representing the senator at many community events."

Contributions: The Tuesday with Toomey Twitter page on Thursday also pointed to multiple reports raising concerns about donations DeVos and her family made to Toomey's election campaigns.

The Center for American Progress, which describes itself as an independent nonpartisan policy institute, found that DeVos and 15 of her family members have contributed more than $60,000 to support Toomey's election efforts.

FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2016 file photo, President-elect Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos pose for photographs at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J. Trump has chosen charter school advocate DeVos as Education Secretary in his administration. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Toomey is one of 21 Republican senators to receive a combined $950,000 from DeVos and her family, according to the report.

Neither Toomey nor Casey's spokeswomen responded to questions regarding the donations.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.