No, Betsy DeVos isn't the Education Secretary—yet

Inside the senate confirmation process

Earlier this week, Betsy DeVos sat for her confirmation hearing, which turned out to be rather contentious.  

You might be wondering: Is DeVos the Education Secretary now? The answer is no. The senate confirmation hearing is only one step of a lengthy process.

Here's how it goes:

Step one: Incoming president chooses nominees

Once the votes are counted, president-elects generally submit their nominees as soon as possible in hopes that the process will—hopefully—be complete by Inauguration Day.

Step two: Each nominee is vetted

The FBI and the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) are responsible for vetting nominees' backgrounds. The OGE pays particular attention to nominees' financial documents to ensure there are no business conflicts of interest.

The vetting process for DeVos hasn't finished yet. Some Democrats have expressed frustration that she hasn't yet shared all of the necessary financial documents.

Step three:  Nomination heads to the Hill

The relevant Senate committee—the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) in this case—receives the nomination.

Step four: Committee holds a hearing

This was the hearing we saw earlier this week for DeVos. The goal of the confirmation hearing is to decide whether to pass the nominee on to the full Senate.

Step five: To move or not to move?

After the hearing, the committee votes amongst itself to:

  • Report the nomination favorably to the full Senate;
  • Report the nomination unfavorably to the full Senate; or
  • Report the nomination without recommendation to the full Senate.

If the committee takes too long to decide, the full Senate can vote to invoke cloture, which forces the nomination to move along.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has assured fellow Senators that the Senate HELP committee won't go through with this vote until the OGE finishes vetting DeVos.

Step six: The full Senate vote

Once on the Senate floor, DeVos will just need a simple majority vote to be confirmed. Republicans have 52 seats in the Senate, while Democrats have 46. Two Senators identify as Independent but caucus with Democrats. In case of a tie, Vice President-elect Mike Pence will cast his vote as a tie breaker.

Nominees cannot be confirmed until the president-elect has been sworn in.

Who else goes through this process?

Every cabinet-level official needs Senate confirmation, except for the White House chief of staff, who is directly appointed by the president (Balingit et al., Washington Post, 1/17;  Parks/Rogin, ABC News, 1/10; U.S. Senate site, accessed 1/19).


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