Zais displays flexibility (copy) (copy)

Former South Carolina State Superintendent Of Education Dr. Mick Zais was confirmed Wednesday as the new deputy U.S. education secretary. Grace Beahm/File/Staff

The U.S. Senate confirmed former South Carolina Education Superintendent Mick Zais as the nation's new deputy education secretary Wednesday in a vote that split along party lines.

The 50-48 vote ended a months-long wait for Zais after President Donald Trump picked him to be Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' second-in-command last October.

Zais became a controversial figure during his four-year tenure leading South Carolina's education agency, regularly feuding with teacher groups and members of the state Board of Education.

Supporters of the former schools chief expressed optimism when he was nominated that he would be able to push conservative policies on the national level with more like-minded allies in DeVos' department.

In keeping with a trend across the Trump administration, Zais will serve as another high-ranking official inside a Cabinet agency who has battled with that same agency in the past. During his time as S.C. superintendent, Zais rejected federal funds when he felt there were too many strings attached, lambasting what he viewed as federal overreach.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., congratulated Zais on his confirmation in a tweet Wednesday.

"I have confidence that his addition to the department is a win for education," Scott said.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he is "pleased and proud the Senate has finally confirmed" Zais to the high-ranking position.

"He believes in a strong public education system with flexibility and will be a valuable ally to Secretary DeVos," Graham said.

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When Zais decided not to run for re-election in 2013 many in the Palmetto State assumed Zais would be leaving public life for good to spend more time with his family.

“My campaign was never a stepping stone to higher office," he said at the time. "Rather, it was the culmination of a lifetime of service.”

But when the Trump administration came calling, the 71-year-old ex-Army general chose to come out of retirement for a chance to shape education policy at the national level.

Zais did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday but DeVos tweeted her support.

"Excited to have Gen. Mick Zais joining the team as Deputy Secretary of Education," she wrote. "His experience in higher education and leading schools in South Carolina has uniquely equipped him to serve students as we work to expand educational opportunities across the country."

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina statehouse and congressional delegation. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.