President Barack Obama extracted a notable concession from the Senate Monday, as the Republican-controlled chamber voted to approve John King as Obama’s new secretary of education.
King has been serving as acting secretary of education since late December, when previous secretary Arne Duncan stepped down. King was confirmed 49 to 40, with a few Republicans joining almost every Democrat present.
Functionally, the vote will change nothing, other than removing the “acting” label from King’s current title. But it was still a small win for the Obama administration, which is currently battling GOP senators over whether the new Supreme Court vacancy will be filled during Obama’s tenure or that of the next president.
Initially, the Obama administration planned to have King serve in an acting capacity until Obama left office. But several Republicans, including Senate education committee chairman [crscore]Lamar Alexander[/crscore], complained Obama was effectively ignoring his constitutional duty to have cabinet officials confirmed by the Senate.
About a month into King’s tenure, Obama changed course, and nominated King to be a full cabinet secretary. Besides wanting to quash Republican complaints, Obama may also have wanted to give King greater legitimacy, since he is in charge of implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a major overhaul of education policy that Congress passed last year.
Obama’s decision was likely based on assurances he received that King’s nomination would not be strongly contested, but in the end, a large number of Republicans were moved to oppose King anyway. Conservative organizations like The Heritage Foundation strongly encouraged senators reject King, pointing out his ongoing support of Common Core, which he helped implement as the state school chief in New York. King also took flak for once supporting InBloom, a now-defunct nonprofit that outraged parents and privacy advocates over its plans to build a very detailed database of student information.
Meanwhile, during an appropriation hearing last week that wasn’t connected to his nomination, King was aggressively criticized by Sen. [crscore]James Lankford[/crscore] over how the Department of Education has pressured schools on the topic of sexual assault. (RELATED: Senator Pressures Obama Administration On Sexual Assault)
Alexander, who broke with most of his Republican colleagues to support King, framed the confirmation as a means of ensuring accountability.
“We need an education secretary confirmed by and accountable to the United States Senate so that the law fixing No Child Left Behind will be implemented the way Congress wrote it,” he said in a statement sent to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “A law is not worth the paper it is printed on unless it is implemented the way Congress wrote it.”
The only Democrat to oppose King was New York Sen. [crscore]Kirsten Gillibrand[/crscore], who was extremely critical of King’s tenure leading schools in her state.
“John King’s tenure in New York was very adversarial, leaving families, students and teachers without a voice on important issues and therefore I cannot support his nomination at this time,” she said in a statement.
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