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Harris ties Calhoun’s 191-year-old record for breaking Senate ties

Vote on ending debate on EEOC nominee was 31st tie-breaker

Vice President Kamala Harris tied the record for casting tie-breaking votes in the Senate.
Vice President Kamala Harris tied the record for casting tie-breaking votes in the Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Vice President Kamala Harris has tied the record for tie-breaking votes in the Senate that was set nearly 191 years ago by John C. Calhoun.

Harris on Wednesday voted in favor of ending debate on the nomination of Kalpana Kotagal to be a member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, her 31st tie-breaker vote since entering office with President Joe Biden two and a half years ago.

“This is a history-making moment for the United States Senate,” Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said after the motion was agreed to on a 51-50 vote. “When it’s mattered most, Vice President Harris has provided the decisive vote on some of the most historic bills of modern times … to so many federal judges who now preside and provide balance on the federal bench.”

With two years of a 50-50 Senate, Harris’ tie-breaking ability proved especially crucial for Democrats in getting their priority legislation passed, including COVID-19 relief measures and their fiscal 2022 reconciliation package. While Democrats have taken a very slight 51-49 majority, her vote has been necessary to confirm controversial Biden nominees through attendance issues and Democratic no votes. 

Calhoun, a staunch defender of slavery who represented South Carolina in the House and Senate, set the record in almost eight years as vice president between 1825 and 1832 when he served under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Calhoun’s tie-breaking votes have gained additional attention, as he is known for having gone against Jackson on two occasions, when voting on confirmation of future President Martin Van Buren to be minister to England.

While Harris needs one more vote to break the overall record, she already has set a few tie-breaking records of her own.

She currently holds the record for tie-breaking votes in a single day — she cast four on May 11, 2022 — and the record for most votes cast in the first year of a vice presidency, with 15. The next highest on that list is former Vice President Mike Pence, who only cast seven. Harris and Pence are the only two in the overall top 10 who served after 1873. 

The timing of Harris’ record-breaking vote is unclear. Her votes have been sporadic, sometimes with months between them. But the amount of time left in her term with such a tight Senate suggests she will clear the record with room to spare.

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