Vice President Kamala Harris wanted to get to the U.S. Senate to interrupt a tie. However first she needed to keep away from inflicting a visitors jam.
Another senator needed to vote earlier than Harris may finish the deadlock, and he was in Georgetown, on the other aspect of Washington. If Harris left in her motorcade, road closures would seemingly minimize off his path to Capitol Hill.
So she waited.
“I used to be on the telephone with the senator’s employees telling them, you need to inform me when he’s within the automotive and when he’s crossed the brink by downtown,” Kristine Lucius, former director of legislative affairs for Harris, recalled in regards to the vote on an administration nominee final 12 months.
Such has been the fragile balancing act for Harris, whose position as president of the Senate has been a defining characteristic of her first two years in workplace. With the assistance of cautious scheduling — and even a watch on visitors patterns when crucial — she’s swiftly outpaced her predecessors with regards to breaking ties.
Now the strain might be off. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s victory within the Georgia runoff means Democrats will develop their majority to 51 seats. Though Harris should still get known as upon, equivalent to when senators are absent, the occasion can have a bit of extra respiration room on shut votes.
Senate Majority Chief Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., mentioned Wednesday that his caucus “has been deeply grateful” for Harris’ “fixed schedule juggling.”
“It’s a part of her job. However I believe she’s performed a variety of different good issues,” he mentioned. “And now she’s going to have a bit of extra time to do these issues. As a result of the necessity for her to be right here might be much less.”
Vice presidents have an infamously sparse job description beneath the Structure, and one in all their solely tasks is serving as president of the Senate. It has been a largely ceremonial position in latest administrations. President Joe Biden did not have to interrupt a single tie in his eight years as vice chairman.
Harris, a former senator from California, has had a way more hands-on expertise as a result of the chamber has been evenly divided in an period of sharp partisanship.
A dozen nominees wouldn’t have been confirmed with out her vote. She additionally helped nudge the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion coronavirus reduction measure, and the Inflation Discount Act, the centerpiece of Biden’s home agenda, over the end line.
All instructed, she’s forged 26 tiebreaking votes. John C. Calhoun, who served as vice chairman beneath John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, has the report for 31 — however that is over the course of almost eight years, somewhat than Harris’ two.
“Floating holds” limiting journey have been constructed into Harris’ schedule weeks upfront when there was an opportunity she could be wanted on Capitol Hill, stopping her from straying removed from Washington.
When she did journey, she tended to go on Mondays, Thursdays or Fridays as a result of most Senate votes have been on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And quick hops to Baltimore or Richmond have been preferable to flights across the nation, which might make dashing again for a vote logistically sophisticated.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., mentioned, “Any time we have been right here, she needed to be prepared, as a result of even issues that may have appeared noncontroversial, appointments and stuff, may impasse.” Harris was “by no means fully free to make different plans,” he mentioned.
One of many exceptions was the Munich Safety Convention in February, which Harris attended shortly earlier than Russia invaded Ukraine.
“As quickly as that was booked, the primary individual I talked to was not my husband about youngster care protection, it was the bulk chief’s chief of employees,” Lucius mentioned. She needed to guarantee that Schumer knew he couldn’t schedule any tight votes then, “as a result of that’s not one thing that you could fly dwelling from.”
Generally there is a scheduling battle. Harris was in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas when the Senate held a affirmation vote for a Labor Division official.
The nomination unexpectedly stalled with out Harris accessible to interrupt a tie, so Democrats tried once more in September. They have been profitable, and Harris wasn’t even wanted as a tiebreaker.
“She’s been right here once we want her,” mentioned Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “We’ve accommodated her when it didn’t work out.”
Murray appreciates Harris’ journeys to Capitol Hill for an additional cause apart from tiebreakers. They’re alternatives to speak coverage, from college buses to maternal well being, with somebody who’s a heartbeat away from the presidency.
“It’s a connection you don’t typically get with a vice chairman,” she mentioned.
Joel Ok. Goldstein, a historian of the vice presidency, mentioned Harris’ duty could be rewarding and irritating.
“The upside is, she will get to be there when there’s one thing that’s vital, and he or she casts a decisive vote,” he mentioned. “The draw back is, she must be there.”
In any case, the vice presidency could be a political springboard, and remaining tethered to Senate process just isn’t normally an bold chief’s thought of a plum task.
However the perils of not being accessible have been obvious earlier than, equivalent to when the Senate was contemplating President Calvin Coolidge’s nominee for legal professional normal in 1925.
Believing he wasn’t wanted, Vice President Charles G. Dawes went to his lodge room for a nap. When he awoke, it was too late to rescue the nomination with a tiebreaking vote.
Though vice presidents have functioned as extensions of the presidency in latest historical past, they used to function extra independently from the White Home, embracing their legislative position by frequently presiding over the Senate.
Generally they even voted towards the president’s pursuits. In 1832, when Jackson selected Van Buren to be ambassador to Nice Britain, Calhoun ensured the nomination failed by casting a tiebreaking vote towards him.
Harris knew she could be known as upon to interrupt ties when she took workplace, and he or she did not appear to be wanting ahead to it.
Shortly earlier than the inauguration, she wrote within the San Francisco Chronicle that there had been solely 268 such votes because the nation’s founding.
“I intend to work tirelessly as your vice chairman, together with, if crucial, fulfilling this constitutional obligation,” Harris wrote. “On the identical time, it’s my hope that somewhat than come to the purpose of a tie, the Senate will as a substitute discover frequent floor and do the work of the American individuals.”
Harris forged her first tiebreaking votes solely two weeks after taking workplace. They occurred earlier than daybreak on the finish of a marathon voting session on the American Rescue Plan.
“All proper, ought to I do that?” she mentioned, tapping the ivory gavel a single time on the desk in entrance of her.
“The Senate being equally divided, the vice chairman votes within the affirmative and the concurrent decision as amended is adopted,” she mentioned, making certain passage of the invoice and drawing applause from Democrats.
As her variety of votes ticked larger and better, she has publicly embraced her position.
In a September speech at South Carolina State College, Harris famous she had forged extra tiebreaking votes in a single time period than any of her predecessors. The report was beforehand held by John Adams, the nation’s first vice chairman.
“I believe we should always all absolutely respect how historical past can take a flip,” she mentioned.
Related Press author Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.
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