Kamala Harris, the vice president, had to travel to the US. Senate will resolve a tie. She first needed to prevent a backup in traffic.
Before Harris could break the deadlock, one more senator had to vote, and that senator was in Georgetown, on the other side of Washington. Street closures would probably prevent Harris from reaching Capitol Hill if she left in a motorcade.
She thus waited.
According to Kristine Lucius, a former director of legislative affairs for Harris, “I was on the phone with the senator’s staff telling them, you have to tell me when he’s in the car and when he’s crossed the threshold through downtown” regarding the vote on an administration nominee last year.
Such a fine line has been walked by Harris during her two years as president of the Senate, which has been a defining aspect of her presidency. She has quickly surpassed her predecessors in breaking ties with the aid of careful scheduling—and, when necessary, keeping an eye on traffic patterns.
The stress will now decrease. Democrats will increase their majority to 51 seats as a result of Sen. Raphael Warnock’s triumph in the Georgia runoff election. Harris may still be needed, for example, if a senator is absent, but the party will have a little more wiggle room when it comes to close votes.
Senator Harris’ “constant schedule juggling” has earned praise from his caucus, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York.
The Constitution notoriously gives vice presidents very little authority, and one of their only duties is to preside over the Senate. In recent administrations, it has been primarily a ceremonial position. In his eight years as vice president, Joe Biden never had to break a tie.
Because the chamber has been evenly divided in an era of ferocious partisanship, Harris, a former senator from California, has had a lot more first-hand experience.
Without her vote, a dozen nominees would not have been approved. She also assisted in advancing the Inflation Reduction Act, the centerpiece of Biden’s domestic agenda, and the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief measure.
She has voted 26 times to break ties overall. The record is held by John C. Calhoun, a vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, who did so over a period of nearly eight years as opposed to Harris’ two.
Because the majority of Senate votes were held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when she did travel, she tended to do so on Mondays, Thursdays, or Fridays. Furthermore, flights across the country were preferable to short hops to Baltimore or Richmond because they would make returning quickly for a vote logistically challenging.
Harris was “never completely free to make other plans,” according to Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia. “Any time we were here, she had to be ready, because even things that might have seemed noncontroversial, appointments and stuff, could deadlock.”
The Munich Security Conference in February, which Harris attended just before Russia invaded Ukraine, was one of the exceptions.
There may occasionally be a scheduling conflict. When the Senate held a vote to confirm a Labor Department official, Harris was in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas.
Democrats re-attempted the nomination in September after it unexpectedly came to a standstill without Harris present to break a tie. As a result of their success, Harris wasn’t even required as a tiebreaker.
Murray values Harris’ visits to Capitol Hill for reasons other than tiebreakers. They are chances to discuss policy with someone who is just seconds away from the presidency, from school buses to maternal health.
According to vice presidential historian Joel K. Goldstein, Harris’ duties can be both satisfying and challenging.
Sometimes they even cast ballots that were against the president’s wishes. When Jackson nominated Van Buren to serve as ambassador to Great Britain in 1832, Calhoun made sure the nomination fell short by voting against him in the tie-breaking vote.
When Harris assumed office, she was aware that she would have to sever relationships, and she didn’t appear to be looking forward to it.
There had only been 268 such votes since the nation’s founding, she reported in the San Francisco Chronicle just before the inauguration.