In Article 1, Section 3, Clause 4 of the United States Constitution, it says: “The Vice President of the United States shall be the President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.”
This meaning that one of the few expressed powers of the Vice President is to break a tie.
In the past few months of the Trump Administration it seems as though Vice President Pence has played a fairly big role in the Senate. He has now voted four times.
After growing up through the Obama Administration, and not seeing Vice President Biden vote even once, four seems like a rather large number. So, I decided to do some digging.
It turns out that Pence is but a blip on the tie-breaking map. Though, he has so far casted more votes than most Vice Presidents — and one may argue that the context of the legislation is worth more than the sum of votes cast…one might be right.
Joe Biden would cast no votes. He would join the club alongside Dan Quayle, Nelson Rockefeller, Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson and all the way up to John Tyler who served with William Henry Harrison in the 1840s.
But, Vice President Cheney would cast eight deciding votes in the Senate. Gore would cast four and George H.W. Bush would cast 7. In our history as a nation these votes are a substantial accomplishment.
Most Vice Presidents would never get this call. Some would only break one or two. So, we know the record for least votes cast is zero. But, what is the record for most votes cast?
Vice President John C. Calhoun, serving under both John Adams and Andrew Jackson would break 31 ties during his seven year term between 1825 and 1832.
Now, perhaps a more interesting question: Who cast the first tie-breaking vote? That honor belongs to John Adams. He cast twenty-nine tie-breaking votes. In fact, Adams played a fairly large role in the Senate and on a scale that we haven’t seen in some time.
He worked to protect the President’s authority over his appointees, influenced the location of the national capital, and prevented a war with Great Britain. He was also very vocal on legislation that he disagreed with and worked relentlessly to persuade Senators to take his side. He also commented on procedure and policy quite frequently. So often in fact, that the Senate attempted to pass a resolution that would limit his ability to speak.
For better or for worse, John Adams may have been the most influential President of the Senate.
What’s interesting about these occurrences is not only that we are able to reaffirm that our Constitution is in fact a living and breathing document. What is most interesting to me is the steep decline in tie-breaking votes.
The question would now become: Why?
The answer is political strategy. The rise of filibustering in the United States has become far more popular. It remains possible because our nation has existed at a partisan divide. Currently, under the 115th Congress, there exist 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and 2 Independents. This isn’t an even split. But, when you consider that both Independents caucus with the Democrats it becomes far closer.
I was inspired to write about this history of tie-breaking today because, only moments ago, Vice President Pence broke his fourth tie. The Senate voted 50-50 on House Resolution 1628. This is the legislation concerning The American Health Care Act.
To do some very literal ‘history today’ talk this vote does not mean that HR 1628 is passed. It means that the Senate will not have to start a long and difficult process of amending the legislation and continue their talks on re-shaping President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
A lot of history is happening today and will continue in the weeks to come. Stay tuned, stay informed, stay active!
We are living through an exciting and historical time.