USA TODAY – Around 5 a.m. Friday in the nation’s capital, bleary-eyed senators who had spent hours debating a COVID relief bill looked up to see Vice President Kamala Harris presiding over the chamber.
Within minutes, she would cast two important, tie-breaking vote on a budget resolution, clearing the way for what Democrats hope is the quick passage of a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package that President Joe Biden sees as necessary to ramp up vaccine distribution and get America back on its economic feet.
Harris’ vote could presage a busy legislative role for her: The likely tie-breaking vote in an evenly split Senate deeply divided over policy.
It’s an action seldom taken throughout history, but may turn out to be a crucial tool the Biden administration uses to move appointments and priorities through Congress.
As vice president, Harris holds the title of Senate president, which, while largely ceremonial, means she can vote to break ties on bills, court nominees, and Cabinet appointments.
Even before Friday’s votes, her very presence had made an impact. When Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff unseated two Republicans in Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoff election, the Senate became evenly split between both parties. Harris’ position automatically gave Democrats control of the chamber.
She’s poised to reprise her role as tie-breaker in the coming weeks when the COVID relief proposal, known as the American Rescue Plan, comes up for a final vote in the 50-50 Senate.
Tie-breaking opportunities could be limited
Though Harris has the deciding vote in the split Senate, she may not get a final say on much.
That’s because Harris only has the authority to vote when the Senate is deadlocked at 50-50. Controversial measures such as curbing oil and gas development, efforts to reverse decades of systemic racial discrimination or expand health care are likely to be blocked by Senate filibusters …
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