Vice President Kamala Harris broke a record Tuesday that took two previous vice presidents about eight years to break, and she did it only three.
With a closely divided Congress and the slimmest of majorities in both chambers, Kamala Harris has now cast more decisive, tiebreaking votes in the Senate than John Calhoun or John Adams, who held the previous record. Harris cast her 32nd tie-breaking vote today on the confirmation of Judge Loren AliKhan to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Calhoun, who served as vice president from 1825 to 1832, held the previous record of 31 — and while it may have been a similarly divisive era in the Senate, it must not have been as closely divided since it took seven years to reach that number.
"Today is historic," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a statement on the floor of the chamber following the vote. "The record Vice President Harris sets today is significant not just because of the number, but because of what she’s made possible with tiebreaking votes."
Noting that Calhoun had been a major proponent of slavery, Representative James E. Clyburn of South Caroline put out a statement saying, "It is only fitting that Vice President Harris — the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American elected vice president — has set a new standard and brought us into the 21st century."
As the New York Times reports, Schumer presented Harris with a golden gavel outside the chamber to commemorate the occasion.
Today's tiebreaking vote was necessary because the always stubborn Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia refused to confirm Judge AliKahn, bucking the will of his party.
It remains an open question whether Manchin may decide to become a spoiler third-party candidate in the 2024 election. Manchin announced last month that he is not seeking reelection to the Senate in 2024, which sets up a high-stakes fight and potential flipping of a seat in the very red state of West Virginia next year.
There have only been 300 tiebreaking votes cast by the vice president, under constitutional rules, since 1789, as the Times notes — which means Harris has now cast more than a tenth of them.
Under Trump's presidency, VP Mike Pence had to cast a tiebreaking vote 13 times.
Part of the reason for the high number of votes is the way judicial confirmations have worked for the last decade. As the Chronicle notes, since 2013, on two occasions the majority party has voted to drop the 60-vote threshold for judicial nominees, lowering it to a simple majority — due to slim majorities in both cases in 2013 (Democrats) and in 2017 (Republicans).
The 60-vote threshold remains in place for legislation, however simple majorities can also pass budget-reconciliation bills, and Harris also cast a tie-breaking vote on Biden's $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package.
Because of the Democrats' one-vote majority in the chamber — with Senator Kyrsten Synema often giving then an extra vote after changing her affiliation to independent — Harris has had to remain close to Washington throughout the Biden presidency to be on hand to cast tiebreaking votes on nominees whenever the Senate is in session.
And Schumer acknowledged that today saying, "Every time duty has called, Vice President Harris has answered — more than any other vice president in our nation’s long and storied history." He noted that Harris's votes on a diverse group of judiciary appointees have helped make the federal bench "look more like America."
Harris blew past the record of tiebreakers by two today, casting her 33rd vote this afternoon to assure AliKahn's confirmation, as the Associated Press reports.