The Vice-President is the President of the Senate by the US Constitution. As President of the Senate, the Vice-President is empowered to preside over the Senate and cast a tie-breaking vote. The Constitution also specifies that the Chief Justice presides over an impeachment trial of the President. In such a case, does the Vice-President still retain the right to cast a vote when the vote is equally divided in the Senate during an impeachment trial?

Such a tie could potentially occur during a procedural vote or a similar question other than the question on whether to convict the President. This question does not include in its scope the actual vote to convict which would obviously not reach the two-thirds threshold if the Vice-President is casting a vote (aside from the pathological case when all Senators abstain or all but two Senators abstain, but quorum is still present).

  • A related question is: Who presides over the trial if the vice-president is impeached? This came close to happening in 1973, but Spiro Agnew resigned. Jan 8, 2020 at 2:54

2 Answers 2


Does the Vice-President retain their tiebreaking vote during an impeachment trial of the President?

No, the vice president has no defined role in the impeachment trial of the president.

It is possible that the vice president could relinquish the chair to the chief justice, but, even that is not required.

The chief justice may cast a tie-breaking vote on procedural matters. Procedure and Guidelines for Impeachment Trials in the United States Senate, Chief Justice as Presiding Officer, pp. 40-42.

The Chief Justice has voted in the case of a tie in an impeachment trial on two occasions. On March 31, 1868, a motion was made that the Senate retire for consultation. The yeas were 25 and the nays were 25, and the Chief Justice voted in the affirmative. At this point the Senate retired to its conference chamber.


During the next day’s proceedings, Senator Sumner again raised the issue of the right of the Chief Justice to vote. During the reading of the Journal, he proposed an amendment to the Journal as follows: "It appearing from the reading of the Journal of yesterday that on a question where the Senate were equally divided the Chief Justice, presiding on the trial of the President, gave a casting vote, it is hereby declared that, in the judgment of the Senate, such vote was without authority under the Constitution of the United States." This was rejected by a vote of 21 yeas, 27 nays. Thus the Senate turned down each attempt to prevent the Chief Justice from voting, and in a subsequent action concerning a motion for adjournment, the vote being yeas 22, nays 22, the Chief Justice voted in the affirmative, deciding the issue. This vote was not challenged.

At the end of the trial of President Johnson, however, another occasion arose on a motion to adjourn to a date certain when the vote was tied 27 to 27 and the Chief Justice refrained from voting.

See also How many Senators must vote to override specific judgments of the Chief Justice in an impeachment trial of the President?.

  • 2
    @Viktor - Should the vice president choose to preside over the beginning of the impeachment trail, the vice president would be the presiding officer that relinquishes the chair to the chief justice. Normally, the president pro tem (currently Orrin Hatch) would perform that duty.
    – Rick Smith
    Jan 7, 2020 at 15:51
  • 1
    The current president pro tem of the Senate is Charles Grassley of Iowa. Orrin Hatch of Utah did not run for reelection in 2018 and Mitt Romney won his Senate seat.
    – mdrichey
    Jan 7, 2020 at 19:01
  • 1
    "Consider also, the chief justice presides over the impeachment trial of a vice president. Allowing the vice president to have any role in their own impeachment would be a conflict of interest." Did you mean "president" rather than "vice president"? Jan 7, 2020 at 19:47
  • 1
    I am having a hard time seeing why a tie-breaker vote from the VP is needed though, since the senate needs 67 votes to remove the president from office... Am I wrong in this assessment?
    – ajsmart
    Jan 7, 2020 at 22:18
  • 1
    @ajsmart - There are three types of votes: procedural questions that require a decision, rules changes during the proceeding, and the vote for conviction. The last two require a two-thirds vote. Procedural questions use a simple majority. An even number of Senators voting could result in a tie, thus require a tie-breaker. This question only deals with the procedural.
    – Rick Smith
    Jan 7, 2020 at 22:29


When the Constitution was created, the runner-up in the presidential race became vice president. As such, there was no possible way for a presidential impeachment to occur without the appearance of bias on the vice president's part: he and the president were likely of different parties, different ideologies, etc, and the vice president would be the direct benefactor of the president's removal from office. So to avoid this impropriety, the Constitution installed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in that role (in addition to that of judge at a jury trial), assuming that the solemnity of the Chief Justice's role would make any presidential impeachment trial above contempt. While we have altered the vice presidential role to be chosen by the president (and allowed senators to be directly elected and thus have the potential for partisanship), we have not significantly altered the presidential impeachment laws to reflect this.

  • 3
    Can you provide some citations that this was a consideration when the Constitution was being written? It makes sense that they would want to avoid a conflict of interest for the vice president, but I've never seen any documented evidence that it was something they thought about. Also, it doesn't change the overall answer, but "he and the president were likely of different parties" definitely wasn't a consideration, as there were no political parties in the US at the time the Constitution was written.
    – Elezar
    Jan 7, 2020 at 20:25
  • 3
    Note that Electors got two votes, so one could reasonably expect overlap between people who voted for the President and people who voted for the VP. What the Founders failed to anticipate was that there would ever be perfect overlap, causing the 1800 fiasco and leading to the 12th Amendment.
    – dan04
    Jan 7, 2020 at 22:20
  • 1
    Was avoiding bias an explicit goal? Did they not consider that perhaps various senators would also be in the same or different parties and have similar biases? We have seen impeachment votes split almost exactly down party lines, so it would be fair to say that if removing bias was a goal, then the process is a complete failure.
    – user29682
    Jan 8, 2020 at 5:01

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .