On one occasion, Kamala Harris, the Vice President of the United States, needed to go to the Senate in person to break a tie in a vote, but first had to prevent her convoy of cars from causing a traffic jam in the US capital.
A senator had to vote in the upper house before Harris arrived to end the impasse, but legislators were in Georgetown, across town from Washington. If Harris leaves in his motorcade, the road closures will cut off the senator’s route to the Capitol.
So he chose to delay his departure.
“I was on the phone with the senator’s staff saying, ‘You have to tell me when he’s in his car and when he’s gone through the barrier in the middle of town,'” recalled Christine Lucius, Harris’ former director of legislative affairs. An anecdote related to last year’s voting for President Joe Biden’s government candidate.
Balancing Harris, whose role as Senate president has been a defining feature of her first two years in office, has been an equally delicate task. With the help of careful scheduling – and even tracking traffic patterns when necessary – it swiftly outperforms its predecessors when it comes to breaking ties.
Luckily for her, she’ll be able to take a breath. Senator Raphael Warnock’s runoff victory for the Georgia seat means Democrats will increase their majority to 51 seats.
While Harris can still be called upon to break a tie, such as when senators are absent, she will have slightly more leeway if there is a close vote in the upper house.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged Wednesday that his caucus is “deeply appreciative” of Harris’ “constant schedule juggling.”
“It’s part of his job, but I think he’s done a lot of other good things,” he said. “And now you’ll have a little more time to do those things, because he’ll need to be here less.”
The US Vice President has a rare job description in the Constitution. One of his unique responsibilities is to serve as President of the Senate, something that had been a primarily ceremonial role in previous governments.
When the current President Biden was the Vice President under Barack Obama, he did not have to break a single tie in his eight years in office. But Harris, a former senator from California, brings plenty of experience to that role, as the upper house was equally divided in an era of marked partisanship.
A dozen candidates will not be confirmed without your vote. He also helped pass a $1.9 billion stimulus package during the COVID-19 pandemic. She helped get the Inflation Reduction Act, the centerpiece of Biden’s domestic agenda, across the finish line.
He has cast 26 tie-breaking votes in total. John C. Calhoun, who served as vice president during the John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson presidencies, holds the record of 31, but this was over the course of nearly eight years rather than Harris’s two.
The so-called “floating holds” (“movable sections”) that limited her travel when she was likely needed at the Capitol, as they prevented her from wandering too far from Washington, included her in Harris’s schedule weeks earlier. was done. ,
But when he did travel, he traveled on a Monday, Thursday or Friday because most of the voting in the Senate took place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And short trips to Baltimore or Richmond were preferable to taking flights across the country, logistically complex, to return for the vote.
Democratic Senator Tim Kaine said: “Every time we were here, they had to be prepared, because even things that might have seemed non-controversial, like dating and so on, could get stuck.” Harris was “not entirely free to make other plans,” he said.
One of the exceptions was the Munich Security Conference in February, which Harris attended shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine.
“As soon as it was put aside, the first person I talked to about child care coverage was not my husband, but the Majority Leader’s chief of staff,” said Lucius, Harris’ former director of legislative affairs. She had to make sure Schumer knew she could not schedule the close poll at that point, “because that is not something you can walk away from.”
Sometimes there were schedule conflicts. Harris was in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas when the Senate voted a confirmation for a Labor Department official.
The nomination unexpectedly deadlocked, with Harris unavailable to break the tie, so the Democrats tried again in September. They succeeded, and Harris didn’t even have to break the tie.
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said, “When we needed her, she was here.” “When things weren’t working we adjusted.”
Murray appreciates Harris’ visit to the Capitals for a reason other than the tiebreaker. They are opportunities to discuss politics, from school buses to maternal health, with someone who is one step away from the presidency.
“It’s a relationship you don’t normally have with a vice president,” he said.
Vice Presidential Historian Joel K. Goldstein said Harris’ responsibility can be both rewarding and frustrating.
“The advantage is she can be there when something important happens and she casts the deciding vote,” he said. “The downside is that he has to be there.”
After all, the vice presidency can be a political springboard, and being tied to that Senate process is rarely a great idea for a leader to do.
And the dangers of not having a vice presidential runoff available have been apparent before, such as when the Senate was considering President Calvin Coolidge’s nominee for attorney general in 1925.
Believing it was not necessary, Vice President Charles G. Dawes went to his hotel room to take a nap. When he awoke, it was too late to save the nomination with the tie-breaking vote.
Although in recent history vice presidents have served as extensions of the presidency, they regularly acted more independently of the White House, adopting their legislative role by presiding over the Senate.
Sometimes they used to vote against the interests of the President. In 1832, when Jackson selected Van Buren as ambassador to Great Britain, Calhoun cast a tie-breaking vote against him, ensuring that the nomination failed.
Harris knew that he would be asked to break ties when he took office, and he was not too eager to do so.
Shortly before the inauguration, he wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that there had been only 268 such votes since the country’s founding.
Harris wrote, “I intend to work tirelessly as your vice president, including fulfilling this constitutional duty, if necessary.” “At the same time, I hope that the Senate finds common ground and serves the American people instead of coming to the point of impasse.”
Harris cast her first tie-breaking vote just two weeks after taking office. They took place before dawn, at the end of a marathon voting session on the American Rescue Plan Act, a stimulus package during the pandemic.
“Okay, should I do this?” Harris asked, tapping the ivory mallet once on the table in front of him.
“With the Senate split down the middle, the Vice President voted yes and the amended concurrent resolution was adopted,” he said, securing the bill’s passage and thunderous applause from Democrats.
As his tally of tie-breaking votes grew, the vice president publicly accepted his role.
During a September speech at South Carolina State University, Harris said she had cast more tie-breaking votes in a single term than any of her predecessors. The record was previously held by the nation’s first vice president, John Adams.
“I think we all must fully appreciate how history can take turns,” he insisted.
Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.