Story by Matthew Parks, Staff writer
Betsy DeVos was confirmed Wednesday as the Secretary of Education after a historic and contentious confirmation process.
For the first time in United States history, the vice president was called to the Capitol to break a tie vote, declaring DeVos as the education secretary after an all-night debate session on the Senate floor.
DeVos’s confirmation was contested because many believed she showed a lack of basic knowledge on the education system during her initial confirmation hearing.
She spent time dodging questions from senators, including Democrat Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
Democrat Sen. Al Franken, called for Republicans to vote against DeVos in a fiery speech moments before the vote.
“If we cannot set aside party loyalty long enough to perform the essential duty of vetting the president’s nominees, what are we even doing here?” Franken said.
While two Republican senators did dissent against DeVos’s confirmation, Democrats failed to obtain the one additional vote they needed to block her appointment, despite the lengthy debate process.
After the vote concluded, Vice President Mike Pence issued a statement from the White House in which he backed his decision and stated his belief that DeVos will be an excellent education secretary.
“In Betsy DeVos, we have one of America’s foremost advocates for educational opportunity and excellence,” Pence said.
Shortly after, Jeff Sessions, Republican senator from Alabama , was confirmed in another vote to his position of Attorney General with a tally of 52-to-47.
In a controversial move, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a call to silence Warren during her speech against Session’s appointment. Warren chose to read from a letter by Coretta Scott King written in 1986 that contained derisive remarks against Sessions and his relations with African Americans in Alabama. McConnell accused Warren of “impugning the motives” of Sessions, which is not allowed in Senate debates, and passed a vote to silence her from speaking for the rest of the session.
“Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” McConnell said. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
The Trump Administration has drawn criticism from humanitarian organizations after a raid in Yemen that killed at least 23 civilians and one Navy SEAL in the mission that was carried out on Jan. 29, according to nongovernmental organization Reprieve.
Yemen is a common target of U.S. raids since the 9/11 attacks in 2011 as a part of the “war on terror,” since members of the al-Qaida regularly take refuge there.
The raid was originally planned by the Obama Administration but was not carried out until the end of January due to “operational difficulties,” according to a White House statement.
An al-Qaida base was the target of the operation where military officials said they hoped to gain intelligence that would be used in future strikes and to prevent domestic terror attacks.
A senior Yemeni official said the operation was a failure, adding that Yemen had asked the US to stop ground operations in the country without approval from the Yemeni government.
While official results of the operation are classified, Sen. John McCain also called the raid a “failure” while speaking to reporters about the incident.
The third week of Trump’s presidency also involved a great deal of controversy and political sparring over his immigration ban.
A federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary block on Trump’s new immigration executive order Friday after a week of protests and public outrage. The court decided the order was unconstitutional, as there was no solid evidence that the seven banned nations had actually been the point of origin for any terrorists.
The Trump Administration immediately filed a request to re-enact the order, which was rejected by a federal appeals court Sunday. For now, immigrants from the formerly banned nations are free to enter the country, regardless of refugee status.
The White House released a statement following the ruling that called the decision “outrageous” and vowed to fight for Trump’s order.
“The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people,” the statement read.
Trump took to Twitter in defense of his order, saying, “When a country is no longer able to say who can, and who cannot, come in and out, especially for reasons of safety & security – big trouble!”
The ruling against Trump’s order is a temporary measure that only grants exemption from the rule until the government and opponents of the ban have a chance to make full arguments against it or until the Trump Administration wins a stay in court, which would negate the judge’s ruling.
The president also signed an executive order that fulfilled one point listed in his campaign promises – for every new federal regulation enacted, two existing ones must go.
The order states, “Unless prohibited by law, whenever an executive department or agency publicly proposes for notice and comment or otherwise promulgates a new regulation, it shall identify at least two existing regulations to be repealed.”
The language of the order is not specific to how the two eliminated regulations will be decided, but does state that the director of each department “shall provide the heads of agencies with guidance.”
While the Trump administration claims the purpose is to reduce both the number and cost of regulations, critics such as Senator Sherrod Brown, head of the Senate Banking Committee, have claimed that the order is merely a veiled way for the administration to eliminate past regulations they don’t agree with without going through the process of actually repealing it.
In a statement released the day after Trump’s executive order was announced, Brown called the order a “gift to Wall Street” and a testament to what he claims is Trump’s love for Goldman-Sachs and other high-grossing firms.
The executive order also set the 2017 budget for new federal regulations to zero.
Environmental agencies, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Small Business Association, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other agencies have also criticized the order for its potential to eliminate protective health and environment-related regulations.
The president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Ken Kimmell, said the order is absurd and likely illegal.
“Congress has not called upon the EPA to choose between clean air and clean water, and the president cannot do this by executive fiat,” Kimmell said.