Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, demanded before the vote that Republicans explain how they could support Betsy DeVos.
He said that if they cannot set aside party loyalty long enough to perform the essential duty of vetting the president’s nominees, he actually does not know why they were all there in the first place.
Most Republicans described Betsy DeVos as committed to what is best for children. In a fiery speech moments before the vote, Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and a former education secretary himself, criticized his Democratic colleagues for opposing Ms. DeVos, simply because she was nominated by a Republican president.
He pointed out that DeVos led the most effective public school reform movement over the last few years.
Mr. Alexander, the chairman of the committee that approved Betsy DeVos’ nomination in a party-line split, said she had been at the forefront of education overhaul for decades.
DeVos was the first of Trump’s nominees not to complete an ethics review before appearing before a Senate panel. She filed her ethics paperwork on January 19, two days after her confirmation hearing.
Teachers’ unions and even some charter organizations had protested Ms. DeVos’s nomination across the country.