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VP Harris Breaks Nearly 200-Year Record For Most Tie-Breaking Senate Votes

The divided chamber has kept Harris busy as Democrats fight to advance their legislative agenda.

Vice President Kamala Harris cast her 32nd Senate tiebreaking vote Tuesday (Dec. 5), surpassing a nearly 200-year-old record. It underscores the political polarization in Congress and the fragile dominance Democrats have in the upper chamber.

Harris went to the Senate to advance the judicial nomination of Loren AliKhan to the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., after conservative West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin joined with Republicans to block the pick, leaving the Senate in a 50-50 tie. 

John C. Calhoun, the previous record holder, and ardent defender of slavery, cast 31 tie-breaking votes during his eight years as vice president, from 1825 to 1832 while in office serving under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, respectively. 

The Associated Press reports that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer presented Harris with a golden gavel, calling her tiebreaking vote a “great milestone.” The New York Democrat also applauded Harris for helping the Senate make the judiciary “look more like America” by confirming more women and people of color to the bench.

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The New York Times that Harris remains tied to the Senate, prepared at a moment’s notice to perform her constitutional duty of breaking tied votes. 

Democrats had a 51-to-49 edge in the chamber before Arizona’s Sen. Krysten Sinema left the party to become an independent.

Harris’ Senate votes as vice president have helped advance Biden administration policy priorities, including the pandemic relief $1.9 trillion America Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act, a legislative package to combat climate change, lower health care costs and reduce the federal deficit.

The politically polarized Senate, where Democrats have either held a slim majority or evenly split with Republicans, has blocked the Biden administration’s efforts to pass voting rights protections. 

Supporters blasted Senate Republicans in 2021 for blocking the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in a 50-49 tally of the procedural vote on whether to open debate on the legislation. Moving the bill past the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes to advance most major legislation, is nearly impossible.

Democrats needed several Republicans to cross party lines and to persuade Manchin and Sinema, then a Democrat, to vote in favor of the legislation, which would fight voter suppression and restore enforcement provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

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