Kamala Harris has tied the report for essentially the most tie-breaking votes in Senate historical past – a quick overview of what vice presidents do

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Kamala Harris has tied the report for essentially the most tie-breaking votes in Senate historical past – a quick overview of what vice presidents do

On Jan. 20, 2021, Kamala Harris turned the first African American, the primary particular person of South Asian descent and the first girl to function vp of the USA.

Extra lately, she made historical past once more by casting her thirty first tie-breaking vote within the Senate, matching just one different vp’s report for such votes. John C. Calhoun, who was vp from 1825 to 1832, wanted all eight years of his time period to achieve that quantity. In distinction, Harris has solely been in workplace for 2 and a half years.

If her tie-breaking continues, Harris may find yourself as one of the consequential vice presidents in historical past, casting the deciding votes on a number of legal guidelines, judicial nominations and spending plans. Nonetheless, this distinction says extra in regards to the Senate than the quantity of energy the vp truly wields.

The ‘most insignificant’ workplace?

John Adams, the nation’s first vp, known as the job ‘essentially the most insignificant Workplace.’
Gilbert Stuart, Nationwide Gallery of Artwork through Wikimedia Commons

The function of vp is barely talked about within the U.S. Structure a handful of occasions.

Article I, Part 3 says that the vp “shall be President of the Senate however shall haven’t any Vote” besides within the occasion of a tie. Traditionally, ties have been uncommon. Since 1789, solely 299 tie-breaking votes have been solid, and 12 vice presidents, together with present President Joe Biden, by no means solid a single one.

The start of Article II, Part 1 explains how vice presidents are elected, which was later revised by the twelfth Modification. The tip of that part states that presidential energy “shall devolve on the Vice President” within the occasion of the president’s “Dying, Resignation, or Incapability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the mentioned Workplace.”

As written, it’s unclear whether or not this meant {that a} vp turned the brand new president or was merely serving in an performing capability. This was later clarified with the passage of the twenty fifth Modification, which states that “the Vice President shall grow to be President.” The twenty fifth Modification additionally outlines fill a emptiness within the vice presidency, and it offers a mechanism for the vp to serve briefly as president if a president turns into “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his workplace.”

Lastly, Article II, Part 4 states that vice presidents, like presidents, will be “faraway from Workplace on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or different excessive Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

So, apart from staying out of hassle to keep away from impeachment and ready round to function – or change – the president, vice presidents are actually solely obligated to often solid a tiebreaking vote within the Senate. Because of this the good majority of the time, vice presidents haven’t any actual job to do.

John Adams, the primary U.S. vp, as soon as complained to his spouse that the vice presidency was “essentially the most insignificant Workplace that ever the Invention of Man contrived or his Creativeness conceived.”

Nonetheless, not all have been upset about such inactivity. Woodrow Wilson’s vp, Thomas Marshall, quipped after he retired: “I don’t wish to work … [but] I wouldn’t thoughts being Vice President once more.”

Will Hays with Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge

Warren Harding, middle, needed his vp, Calvin Coolidge, at proper, to play an lively function in governing.
FPG/Keystone View Firm/Archive Images through Getty Photographs

The ‘final voice within the room’

Wilson’s successor as president, Warren Harding, had unconventional views in regards to the significance of the function of the vp. He thought that “the vp ought to be greater than a mere substitute in ready,” and he wished for his vp, Calvin Coolidge, “to be a useful half” of his administration. Coolidge later turned the first vp in historical past to attend Cupboard conferences regularly.

In 1923, Harding died, doubtless of a coronary heart assault, and Coolidge succeeded him as president. “My expertise within the Cupboard,” Coolidge later recalled, “was of supreme worth to me after I turned President.”

After Harding and Coolidge, many later presidents reverted again to the custom of conserving vice presidents an arm’s size away, even on key issues. Franklin D. Roosevelt, as an example, saved the atomic bomb a secret from Vice President Harry S. Truman, who didn’t discover out about it till Roosevelt’s dying.

For the 1960 presidential election, two-term Vice President Richard Nixon confronted off towards Sen. John F. Kennedy. At one level in the course of the marketing campaign, reporters requested then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Are you able to consider a serious contribution that Nixon has made to your administration?” Eisenhower replied: “Properly, should you give me per week I would consider one.” Nixon misplaced that election.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter picked Sen. Walter Mondale as his operating mate. In a memo despatched to Carter after profitable the election, Mondale argued that “[t]he greatest single drawback of our latest administrations has been the failure of the President to be uncovered to impartial evaluation not conditioned by what it’s thought he desires to listen to or typically what others need him to listen to.”

Mondale’s imaginative and prescient for the function of vp was “to supply neutral recommendation” in order that Carter wouldn’t be “shielded from factors of view that [he] ought to hear.” Carter agreed and subsequently made Mondale an integral a part of his interior circle.

Biden served 36 years within the Senate earlier than leaving to grow to be Barack Obama’s vp. When he agreed to be Obama’s operating mate, Biden mentioned he needed to be the “final man within the room” at any time when essential choices had been being made so he may give Obama his unfiltered opinion. When Biden picked Harris as his operating mate, he mentioned he “requested Kamala to be the final voice within the room,” to “[c]hallenge [his] assumptions if she disagrees,” and to “[a]sk the laborious questions.”

Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale

Vice President Walter Mondale, proper, was an lively a part of President Jimmy Carter’s administration.
AP Picture/Harvey Georges

An ally in an more and more divided Senate

Beneath the principles of the U.S. Senate, if only one lawmaker doesn’t need a invoice to advance, they will try and delay its passage indefinitely through the filibuster. A supermajority of three-fifths of the senators, or 60 of the 100, is required to cease the filibuster – or sign that one wouldn’t succeed – and proceed to a vote.

Over time, the Senate has made numerous procedural adjustments to the filibuster, limiting when it may be used.

The tip results of these reforms is that the Senate is now empowered to do extra with only a easy majority. As well as, lately, the Senate has grow to be more and more divided. Collectively, this has created the circumstances which have empowered Harris to solid so many tie-breaking votes so rapidly, solidifying each her place in historical past and her place alongside Biden within the 2024 election.

That is an up to date model of an article initially revealed Jan. 19, 2021.


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