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With tie-breaking votes, Kamala Harris joins a small club

It's been 190 years since a vice president has cast as many tie-breaking votes as Kamala Harris. She has plenty of time to claim the all-time #1 spot.


Partisan control of the Federal Trade Commission generally isn’t a front-page issue, but many Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the Biden administration take the matter quite seriously. And as Vox reported, that’s what made yesterday’s developments in the Senate so notable.

It took eight months of hearings, nominations, health-related delays, and a tie-breaking vote from the vice president, but the Senate has confirmed Alvaro Bedoya as the Federal Trade Commission’s fifth commissioner. More importantly — and almost certainly why his confirmation was such a drawn-out and contentious process — he’s its third Democrat, and soon will likely be a deciding vote himself.

For those who care about anti-trust and privacy issues, Bedoya’s confirmation represents an important breakthrough.

But let’s not brush past who cast the deciding vote yesterday.

The official tally on Bedoya’s nomination was 50-50, which meant it fell to Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie and confirm the nominee.

For those who watch Capitol Hill closely, it was a familiar sight.

There appears to be some disagreement over exactly how many tie-breaking votes the California Democrat has cast. A Senate tally puts the number at 19; Bloomberg Government’s Greg Giroux, whose work is always solid, says the correct number is 20; and for what it’s worth, Wikipedia points to a total of 22.

Regardless of which tally is correct, Harris is now in the top three for tie-breaking votes in American history.

Holding down the top slot is John Calhoun, who served as vice president from 1825 to 1832, and who broke 31 ties in the Senate over his tenure. In second place is John Adams — the nation’s first vice president — who cast 29 tie-breaking votes in eight years.

But Harris is now in third place. It’s hard not to wonder whether President Joe Biden is a little jealous: He was vice president for eight years, and in that time, he didn’t break any ties at all.

Early last year, ahead of Inauguration Day, The New York Times’ Charlie Savage predicted that Harris would “crush the record books for all-time number of tie-breaking votes cast,” since the Senate would be divided 50-50. I was a little skeptical: Sure, the Senate was evenly divided, but thanks to the routinization of the filibuster, most bills don’t advance without a 60-vote supermajority. I figured Harris wouldn’t necessarily cast that many tie-breakers.

But the Senate no longer allows filibusters on nominations, and the vast majority of the incumbent vice president’s votes have been cast to advance judicial and executive branch nominees.

Will she break the all-time record? It’s certainly possible, though the partisan makeup of the Senate after the midterm elections will likely help answer the question.

Indeed, what’s striking about Harris’ total is how quickly she’s amassed such a large number: She’s only been in office for 16 months, leaving plenty of time for her to reach the top slot.

If John Calhoun’s descendants take a degree of pride in his all-time ranking, they may want to starting preparing themselves now for disappointment.

Update: Coincidentally, shortly after I published this, Harris cast another tie-breaking vote.