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US Vice President Harris breaks record for tie-breaking Senate votes

Sen. Majority Leader Schumer gives Vice President Harris a golden gavel in Washington

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) - Kamala Harris on Tuesday set the record for breaking the most ties in the Senate by a U.S. vice president as she cast a vote to confirm President Joe Biden's nominee Loren AliKhan to become the first South Asian woman judge on the federal district court in Washington.

The Senate, narrowly controlled by Biden's fellow Democrats, confirmed the District of Columbia Court of Appeals judge to a seat on the federal bench in the U.S. capital by a margin of 51-50 after Harris, a former senator from California, cast the tie-breaking vote. As vice president, Harris is also the Senate's president and breaks ties when they arise.

As they have with many Biden judicial nominees, Republicans opposed AliKhan, citing stances she previously took as a District of Columbia government official. Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat, voted with the Republicans, necessitating the Harris tie-breaking vote.

The record Harris broke had stood for almost two centuries. Harris has now cast 33 Senate tie-breaking votes, exceeding the 31 cast by John Calhoun when he was vice president from 1825 to 1832. Calhoun is remembered today as a staunch defender of slavery and an advocate of states' rights.

Earlier in the day, Harris broke a tie on a procedural vote to allow AliKhan's nomination to move to a final confirmation vote. With those votes, Biden has now secured confirmation of 161 judicial nominees.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, hailed the role Harris has played in securing passage of major legislation and confirmation of judicial nominees, saying that "without her tie-breaking votes, there would be no American Rescue Plan, no Inflation Reduction Act, and we would not have confirmed many of the excellent judges now presiding on the bench."

Democrats hold a slim 51-49 majority in a chamber riven with partisan differences.

"The record Vice President Harris sets today is significant," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "Not just because of the number but because of what she has made possible with tie-breaking votes."

AliKhan previously worked in the District of Columbia attorney general's office and served as its solicitor general from 2018 to 2022. Among the cases she argued in that role was a lawsuit that accused Republican former President Donald Trump of violating anti-corruption provisions of the U.S. Constitution during his ownership of a hotel in Washington while in office.

After Trump left office in 2021, the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court threw out a lower court's ruling that had allowed the lawsuit filed by the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland to proceed.

AliKhan also unsuccessfully defended public health-related restrictions that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser issued at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 on religious gatherings of more than 100 people, indoors or outdoors, that were challenged by a local church.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham and Alexia Garamfalvi)