The rare all-night session is a response to a flurry of opposition to DeVos' nomination being generated by their constituents back home and a last-ditch effort to find one more vote for what is shaping up to be a razor-thin confirmation for the Michigan billionaire.
Concerns over DeVos, who is a sharp critic of public schools and has personally invested in private and charter schools, have straddled political party lines. Two Republicans - Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - are rare defections from their party on a cabinet nomination. They announced last week that they would oppose DeVos' nomination, throwing her confirmation dangerously close to failing.
Those two defections, combined with the opposition of every Democrat, leaves just 50 GOP senators supporting her, a margin which would force Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote on her final confirmation, scheduled for Tuesday.
Democrats need the help of Republicans to block a nomination because a simple majority is required for cabinet positions. If one more Republican breaks ranks, DeVos' nomination is defeated.
"I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to follow the courageous example of the senators from Maine and Alaska," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York on the Senate floor Monday. "We have an obligation as Senators — not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Senators — to evaluate these nominees and their fitness for office, because these nominees are going to wield immense power over the lives of Americans for possibly the next four years."
It doesn't appear likely that another Republican will break ranks, however. And Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called the Democratics' tactics "juvenile."
He said Democrats can vote against a nominee but they shouldn't "slow walk" the confirmation process. Cornyn added that Democrats are giving in to the "irrational rage being depicted in some quarters."
Democrats have three major qualms with DeVos. They say she has little understanding of education, is philosophically opposed to public schools, and her business ties poses questions about conflicts of interest.
Sen. Patty Murray, top Democrat of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, called DeVos' nomination " a slap in the face."
"She doesn't approach this the way most of us do. She doesn't cherish public education. She doesn't value it," Murray said Monday, opening up the 24-hour defense.
DeVos struggled through her confirmation hearing two weeks ago. Democrats criticized her for being unable to answer basic questions about education philosophy and expressed concern over her business ties, some of which are in education.
"Devos has no experience in public schools as a student, teacher, administrator or even a parent," said Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Public concern over DeVos has also reached unprecedented levels. The high number of calls to the capitol switchboard "are contributing to delays" in reaching a senators office.
One Nevada resident, Mickey Hollingshead, called the office of Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, last week multiple times and could not get through. He was able to leave a message on the sixth try.
Heller said he would support DeVos, but he is in a precarious political place. He is the only Republican running for re-election in 2018 from a state that Trump lost. He must weigh the needs of his party and president with his re-election efforts.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is also seeing public pressure to oppose DeVos. His spokesperson, Kevin Smith, said, "we always welcome hearing from our constitutents."
"We've received a high volume of phone calls over the couple of weeks but that's to be expected with all of these high-profile nominations," Smith said.
Senate Democrats plan to debate all night in hopes of stopping DeVos
Senate Democrats will take to the floor throughout the day and night Monday to voice their opposition to Betsy DeVos for Education secretary — a Hail Mary effort to convince one more Republican to join them so they can thwart her confirmation.
The 24-hour marathon of speeches is expected to conclude at noon on Tuesday, when the Senate is expected to vote on DeVos' confirmation. That vote is likely to be a 50-50 tie, with Vice President Mike Pence then taking a rare tiebreaker vote to ensure that DeVos is confirmed. If that happens, it would be the first time a vice president has needed to cast the tie-breaking vote for a Cabinet secretary.
Democrats' all-night debate is not a filibuster, which is a tactic that seeks to delay or block a vote. Instead, it is an attempt to call more public attention to the vote, and increase public pressure on GOP senators who have already received tens of thousands of calls and emails from people who oppose DeVos.
Democrats will do "everything we can to persuade just one more Republican to join us, and I strongly encourage people across the country to join us — to double down on your advocacy — and to keep making your voices heard for these last 24 hours," said Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the HELP Committee, in remarks prepared for delivery.
Murray was expected to make her remarks after the Senate convenes at noon.
DeVos is a GOP megadonor and school choice advocate whose nomination has been one of the most contentious of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks.
Democrats have been unified in opposing DeVos’ confirmation, and Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkoswki of Alaska have said they will also vote "no."
With the vote so close, DeVos' opponents in recent days have held rallies in the home states of lawmakers they are targeting, which include Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) , Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), according to published reports.
Democrats Are Holding the Senate Floor for 24 Hours to Protest Betsy DeVos' Nomination
Senate Democrats have announced a plan to hold the Senate floor for the next 24 hours to speak against President Donald Trump's pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos.
"In my mind, she is the least qualified nominee in a historically unqualified cabinet," Sen. Chuck Schumer said from the floor on Monday. "On conflicts of interest, she ranks among the worst."
"Frankly, Ms. Devos' answers at the hearing were embarrassing," he continued.
The rare move comes one day before the Senate is scheduled to cast their final vote on her nomination, which is likely to result in a 50-50 tie, with two Republican senators voting not to confirm DeVos. In the event of a tie, Vice President Mike Pence will cast the deciding vote.