Politics

Mike Pence, Breaking Ties and Maybe a Senate Record

Vice president and his tiebreaking votes might fell a decades-old mark

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell greets Vice President Mike Pence during a dinner at the GOP retreat in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., on Jan. 31. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

When it comes to ties, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knows who to turn to. And turn to. And turn to. That would be Vice President Mike Pence, who has already broken more ties in his one year in office than Dick Cheney did in eight years. 

McConnell even joked last week at the Republican retreat in West Virginia — where Pence was the keynote speaker at a dinner — that the vice president was “well on his way to breaking the most tiebreakers in Senate history.”

That competition pits Pence against a handful of the 47 men who came before him. As vice president, Pence is also the president of the Senate, and one of his few constitutional responsibilities is to break ties in the chamber.

In a chamber of 100 members, it may be more remarkable that there are not more ties, as Pence has already cast eight tiebreaking votes so far. Some were on nominations, such as Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department, Betsy DeVos, and former Kansas Sen. and Gov. Sam Brownback’s ambassadorship.

Pence also broke ties that involved simple majority votes on measures advanced under the expedited procedures of the Congressional Review Act, instrumental in rolling back Obama-era regulations. That law was used an unprecedented (yes, a record) 15 times to move resolutions of disapproval under the CRA. Pence cast tiebreaking votes on two of them.

Going for a twofer in March 2017, Pence broke a tie vote on a motion to proceed, and then on adoption of a resolution that overturned an Obama administration rule to prevent states from limiting which organizations receive federal money for family planning.

One reason for the potential uptick in vice presidential participation is the narrow lead that the 51 Republicans have over the 49 members of the Democratic Conference. Pence could land in the chamber’s presiding chair for a number of Trump’s picks making their way through the confirmation process. Those votes require a simple majority to advance, and Democrats have been resistant to moving them.

McConnell may have been putting Pence on notice of more time working on Capitol Hill, or just acknowledging the reality of the Senate’s party ratio.

“Surveying the landscape, I am starting to suspect we will be seeing even more of him this year,” the Kentucky Republican said at the GOP retreat. He also noted that Cheney had cast eight tiebreaking votes in his entire eight-year tenure.

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In his first year of office, Pence is already tied with three former vice presidents, including Cheney, Richard Nixon and Alben Barkley, according to a list compiled by the Senate Historical Office.

The chances are good that Pence will knock those three out of the way and probably surpass the nine tie-breaking votes cast by Thomas Marshall, who served under President Woodrow Wilson from 1913 to 1921, and Elbridge Gerry, James Madison’s vice president, whose short tenure spanned less than two years.

“Mr. Vice President, we are looking forward to working with you more in the year ahead, and maybe we can help you make a little Senate history in the process,” McConnell said.

Of course, Pence is far behind the top seven vice presidents with double-digit votes cast, all of whom served in the 19th century. The bar is set rather high, with 31 tiebreaking votes cast by John C. Calhoun between 1826 and 1832.

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