Would the vice president be required to always be in the senate chamber in order to break ties? If not, how often must she be there -- or does she need to be there at all to vote her tie-breaker vote?

I wonder does this make her less effective at what a vice president would otherwise be doing, with diplomacy or other governance.

  • 2
    What else would a Vice President be doing? There's nothing required by the Constitution. Anything government-related that a VP does is simply optional, and could be done by someone else. If the President really does not like the VP (as for instance Kennedy & Johnson) the VP can be limited to ceremonial roles.
    – jamesqf
    Jan 6, 2021 at 18:17
  • Thanks for asking this. I'd been intending on asking something along these lines, but never got around to formulating the question.
    – Bobson
    Jan 7, 2021 at 3:06

2 Answers 2


A tie does not necessitate the Vice President to be present in the Senate. Without the VP's vote, the motion will simply fail. However, if the VP wants to break the tie, the VP has to be present on the floor, as the Senate's presiding officer1.

(1more on this in @Damila's answer)

It's worth noting that the Vice President is the President of the Senate which explains their power to break ties.

"The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided" (U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 3).

Source: https://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/reference/four_column_table/Tie_Votes.htm

Whether or not it will make the VP less effective is subjective as that is technically part of the VP's job. The need for the VP to break ties is simply a downside of having a 50–50 Senate majority. Quoting from Axios:

Harris would have to be on constant call for Senate business — but the Democrats would find that preferable to having McConnell and the Republicans control the chamber.

This NPR article provides some insight into how VP Dick Cheney had to be prepared to cast tie-breaking votes in early 2001 when the Senate was tied 50–50.

As a general rule, vice presidents have been pressed into service as tie-breakers when the Senate was controlled by the president's party, especially when the margin of control was narrow. Vice President Al Gore had to break ties on budget votes and other tough calls for the Democrats in the 1990s. Vice President Richard Cheney had to be on call regularly to reinforce Republican control of the Senate early in 2001, when the regular roll call was split 50-50 between the parties. He ultimately cast eight tie-breaking votes.

VP Mike Pence also went to the Senate to cast tie-breaking votes a few times in the early days of his tenure.

Vice President Mike Pence came in to cast tie-breaking votes after the Senate locked 49-49 on both a procedural vote and the confirmation vote on Kansas Gov. (and former Sen.) Sam Brownback's nomination to serve as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

However, a tied Senate does not mean that VP Kamala Harris will always have to be in the Senate. Often, it is clear early on if an impending vote is controversial and requires the VP to break a tie. Hence, the VP would likely be given sufficient advance notice and only need to be present on the Senate floor when that vote is taken.

  • 7
    The first paragraph is misleading. It seems to say that the vice president's presence is compelled whenever there is a tie vote, but that is not true. Neither is the vice president compelled to vote to break a tie if she or he is present. In the event of a tie that is not broken, the motion being put to the senate simply does not pass. A more accurate statement is "the vice president cannot vote to break a tie unless she or he is present on the senate floor."
    – phoog
    Jan 6, 2021 at 16:39
  • 1
    It is worth noting that the lion's share of legislation is based by bipartisan majorities and that votes where there would have to be a tie broken are usually (although not always) scheduled several days in advance at least.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 6, 2021 at 20:08
  • 3
    Also, as the controlling party, they can decide when to bring it to the senate floor for a vote. They can work around the VP's schedule as necessary.
    – corsiKa
    Jan 6, 2021 at 22:31
  • @phoog Updated the paragraph to remove any ambiguity. Thanks for pointing out!
    – Panda
    Jan 7, 2021 at 2:47
  • If anything, this would make the VP more effective rather than less, as it gives them something to do. The Vice President's job is rather poorly defined - they're mostly just there as a backup in case something happens to the President. What they do the rest of the time is kind of nebulous and varies from one VP to the next. Between this, Biden's age, and the historic nature (first woman, first black, first Asian), I'd expect Harris to be among the more active VPs in history, as many of them didn't really do all that much of note. Jan 7, 2021 at 15:21

To add to the answer by Panda:

In the Senate, the VP has the role of presiding, and of breaking ties. For the role of presiding, the Senate will almost certainly vote to end the term of the current President Pro Tempore, and elect a Democrat to that role, on January 20 or once the Georgia elections are settled and the new Democratic Senators are seated - if that is the outcome - whichever comes later. The VP will need to be there for that vote. Once a Democrat is the President Pro Tempore, that Senator will control the proceedings enough to call upon the Democratic Majority Leader for the order of bills, etc. At that point, VP Harris will not need to be at the rostrum full time.

Correction: On January 3, 2001, the Senate elected Robert Byrd (D) to the PPT until noon on January 20, and Strom Thurmond (R) to be PPT starting at noon on January 20. It was by unanimous consent and done while Al Gore (D) was still the VP anyway. (see Sen. Res. 3, page S7) We'll see if anything resembling that sort of comity happens this year. It is complicated by the fact that at least one of the Georgia Senators might not be settled for a while.

The other role is what you asked about, breaking ties. Yes, she needs to be present. But as Panda said, they will know when they need her and in fact the Majority Leader can schedule the votes for when she is available.

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