Harris Casts Historic Vote

It took John C. Calhoun much longer to record 31 tiebreakers
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 12, 2023 6:25 PM CDT
Harris Casts Historic Vote
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a meeting with civil rights leaders and consumer protection experts to discuss the societal impact of artificial intelligence in Washington on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Kamala Harris, who made history as the first woman or person of color to serve as vice president, made history again Wednesday as she matched the record for most tiebreaking votes in the US 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. "My mother gave me great advice, which is that I may be the first to do many things," Harris told reporters afterward. "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 2½ 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 not particularly ceremonial, per the AP. 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.

Under the Constitution, presiding over the Senate and breaking ties are among the few duties of the vice president. Harris had expected a reprieve from that role after the midterm elections, when Democrats expanded their majority from 50 to 51 votes. Then Democratic Sens. John Fetterman and Dianne Feinstein were hospitalized for a period. They have returned to the Senate, but contested nominations can still require Harris' presence. The task can prove frustrating, limiting her travel and keeping her tethered to unpredictable events on Capitol Hill. But it also meant that Harris cast deciding votes on the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act. "It's a blessing," Goldstein said, "because it associates her with some important accomplishments of the Biden administration."

(More Kamala Harris stories.)

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