Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday matched the record for the most tie-breaking votes cast in the U.S. Senate by a sitting vice president.
Her history-making 31st vote was cast in favor of advancing President Biden’s nomination of Kalpana Kotagal to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She now matches the record of John C. Calhoun, who served as vice president from 1825 to 1832.
“It is a moment and I think that there’s still so much left that we have yet to do,” Harris told reporters afterward.
“My mother gave me great advice, which is that I may be the first to do many things,” she added. “I’m going to make sure I’m not the last.”
Unlike Calhoun, who spent eight years accumulating his total, Harris reached 31 in 2 1/2 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,” vice presidential historian Joel K. Goldstein told The Associated Press. “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 tie-breaking vote.”
Harris’ record-matching vote was cast without pomp or ceremony. She entered the Senate chamber Wednesday, recited some lines to cast her vote, and was then congratulated by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the vice president serves as the president of the Senate but may only cast a vote when there is a tie. As of July 12, 2023, there have only been 299 tie-breaking votes cast by a vice president in U.S. history.
Schumer called the vice president’s responsibility an “immense burden” and said Harris has “carried out her duties with supreme excellence” while taking on “all the other demands she faces” in her job.
Harris’ role as tie-breaker for the Democrats has largely defined the first two years of her service as vice president. She had expected to be relieved of that duty when Senate Democrats expanded their majority from 50 to 51 in November, but absences in the Democratic conference have kept her in demand for votes.
Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., missed several weeks of work when he was hospitalized for clinical depression in February. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was diagnosed with shingles in March and missed votes as well.
Both senators have since returned to work, but Harris has been forced to break ties on contentious votes, usually nominations, where Biden has not consolidated Democratic support.
While breaking ties requires Harris to be in Washington, D.C., and can prevent her from traveling to promote the Biden-Harris administration’s accomplishments, it also means Harris was directly involved in passing some of the landmark legislation of Biden’s first term.
If and when Harris decides to pursue another bid for the White House herself, she can brag that she was the deciding vote on the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief measure, and the Inflation Reduction Act, a $739 billion tax and climate spending package intended to curb inflation. And Republicans, of course, can attack her for those votes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.