A History of the Rare Senate Tie-Breaker

Mike Pence may perform a constitutional duty in his third full week as vice president that Joe Biden never did in eight years on the job.

Vice President Mike Pence applauds during the inauguration in Washington on Jan. 20, 2017.

Mike Pence may perform a constitutional duty in his third full week as vice president that Joe Biden never did in eight years on the job: Cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

Pence should be in the Senate chamber Tuesday to prepare to break a 50-50 tie that’s anticipated on President Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos to be education secretary.

Two of the 52 Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, have said they’ll vote against DeVos. If, as expected, the other Republican senators vote to confirm, and if all 48 members of the Democratic Caucus are present to vote no, Trump will need Pence’s vote to get DeVos into the Cabinet.

Betsy DeVos, secretary of education nominee, listens during a Senate Health, Education, and Labor Committee confirmation hearing in Washington on Jan. 17, 2017.

Betsy DeVos, secretary of education nominee, listens during a Senate Health, Education, and Labor Committee confirmation hearing in Washington on Jan. 17, 2017.

Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg

Tie votes don’t happen often, and there’s never been a tie-breaking vote on a Cabinet nomination, according to the Senate Historical Office.

Vice presidents have cast 241 tie-breaking votes since 1789, or a little more than one per year, according to data from the Secretary of the Senate.

The last tie vote was in March 2008, when Vice President Dick Cheney intervened in a procedural vote to the fiscal 2009 budget resolution.

Cheney cast eight votes during his eight years as vice president, including one in May 2003 that led to passage of President George W. Bush’s $330 billion tax-reduction package. Republicans then controlled the Senate 51-49, but a tie ensued when three Republicans voted no and two Democrats voted yes.

"By the time I took my seat as president of the Senate on May 23, I felt I had earned my keep. And when I cast the tie-breaking vote to ensure the bill’s passage, I was sure I had," Cheney wrote in a 2011 memoir, "In My Time."

Two other consequential tie-breaking votes on economic policy came in 1993, when Vice President Al Gore broke deadlocks to advance President Bill Clinton’s deficit-reduction package. Though Democrats then controlled the Senate, a few of them joined all Republicans in opposing the plan, which included a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. When the Senate passed its version of the measure in June 1993, Gore broke a 49-49 tie after 3 a.m.

“I want to thank the Vice President for his unwavering contribution to the landslide," Clinton said after Gore broke a 50-50 tie on final passage that August.

“Al loved to joke that whenever he voted, we always won,” Clinton wrote in a 2004 autobiography, “My Life.”

The all-time tie-breaking champ is John Adams. The first vice president broke 29 ties in eight years.

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