Vice President Kamala Harris makes history with tiebreaking votes in Senate

Vice President Kamala Harris makes history with tiebreaking votes in Senate

The vote, her 31st, advanced the nomination of Kalpana Kotagal to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The only other vice president to cast so many was John C. Calhoun, who served as vice president from 1825 to 1832.

“It is a moment and I think that there’s still so much left that we have yet to do,” Harris told reporters afterwards.

“My mother gave me great advice, which is that I may be the first to do many things,” she added. “I’m going to make sure I’m not the last.”

Unlike Calhoun, who spent eight years accumulating his total, Harris tied the record in two and a half years. It’s a reflection of her unique circumstances, with a narrowly divided Senate and a sharply partisan atmosphere.

“It really says more about our time, and our political climate, than it does about anything else,” said Joel K. Goldstein, a vice presidential historian. “Our politics is so polarized that, even on the sort of matters that in the past would have flown through, it takes the vice president to cast a tiebreaking vote.”

The occasion was hardly memorable or particularly ceremonial. Harris spent only a few minutes in the chamber, reciting a brief script to record her vote, and then received congratulations from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.

Under the Constitution, presiding over the Senate and breaking ties is one of the only constitutional duties of the vice president. Schumer described it as an “immense burden,” and he said Harris has “carried out her duties with supreme excellence” in the midst of “all the other demands she faces” in her job.

However, circumstances intervened. Sen. John Fetterman, a newly elected Democrat from Pennsylvania, was hospitalized for clinical depression. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, contracted shingles and was hospitalized as well.

The absences revived Harris’ string of tiebreakers. Earlier this year she helped confirm two federal judges, one in Massachusetts and the other in California.

Both Fetterman and Feinstein have returned to the Senate, but contested nominations can still require Harris’ presence, such as on Wednesday.

Harris did not seem eager to make history with tiebreaker votes when she became vice president. Before taking office, she wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that “it is my hope that rather than come to the point of a tie, the Senate will instead find common ground and do the work of the American people.”

But tiebreakers swiftly became a core part of her job. The task could prove frustrating at times, limiting her travel and keeping her tethered to unpredictable events on Capitol Hill.

“It’s a blessing,” Goldstein said, “because it associates her with some important accomplishments of the Biden administration.”