Americas

Kamala Harris Casts Her First Tie-Breaking Vote

It was, somehow, a setting simultaneously dramatic and anticlimactic for Vice President Kamala Harris’s first tiebreaking vote in the Senate: just before dawn in a sparsely filled chamber, at the end of a 15-hour session in which senators voted on dozens of amendments to one of the largest stimulus packages in American history.

Minus, perhaps, the 15-hour session, it was a scene sure to be repeated many times. The stimulus may be one of their main priorities, but it is also just the first of many policies the Biden administration hopes to pass through a Senate evenly split between parties that disagree on almost everything, even when the American people don’t.

In the hours before her vote was needed, Ms. Harris met with several senators — including Raphael Warnock, Democrat of Georgia, and Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri — and participated in the ceremonial swearing-in of Senator Alex Padilla, who replaced her last month as the junior senator from California.

She returned to her Senate office around 3:30 a.m., according to a White House aide. With C-SPAN in the background, she passed the time by writing notes to Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Patty Murray of Washington, congratulating them on their 9,000th votes, and to Ann Berry, who was named this week as the first Black secretary of the Senate.

Ms. Harris arrived on the Senate floor shortly after 5 a.m. in anticipation of the session’s final vote — on a budget blueprint that would allow Democrats to pass a $1.9 trillion stimulus package with no Republican support — and took her seat at the head of the chamber.

“Good morning,” Senator Jon Ossoff, Democrat of Georgia, tweeted at 5:13 a.m. “We are still voting in the Senate. And @KamalaHarris has just arrived in the chamber to help us advance COVID relief.”

At that very moment, Ms. Harris was casting what was technically her first tiebreaking vote in favor of an amendment proposed by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader.

But it was at 5:34 a.m., 95 minutes before the sun rose in Washington, that she broke the tie that mattered.

“On this vote, the yeas are 50, the nays are 50,” she said. “The Senate being equally divided, the vice president votes in the affirmative and the concurrent resolution as amended is adopted.”

There was no mistaking the weight of those words. They advanced a hugely impactful piece of legislation, of course. But they also signaled that for two years to come, the single most influential voice in the United States may be that of Ms. Harris declaring, in the stiltedly third-person language of Senate procedure, which way the vice president votes.

As she pronounced the resolution adopted and slid her chair back from the desk, her eyes crinkled in what, behind two masks, was clearly a smile.

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