How Kamala Harris could give 'Joe Biden's legislative agenda a chance at life': report

How Kamala Harris could give 'Joe Biden's legislative agenda a chance at life': report

Hours after being sworn in as vice president of the United States, former Sen. Kamala Harris did some swearing in of her own when three Democrats were added to the U.S. Senate: Sen. Raphael Warnock, Sen. Jon Ossoff and Sen. Alex Padilla — who took over the Senate seat in California that Harris vacated in order to become second in command under President Joe Biden. Democrats now have a narrow Senate majority, and a January 21 article by journalist Christian Paz for The Atlantic examines the tie-breaking role Vice President Harris will have in key Senate votes.

Inauguration Day brought a major sea change in the federal government not only because Biden is now president, but also, because Democrats now control the Senate — although not by much. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York is now Senate majority leader; Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is now Senate minority leader. And Harris' tie-breaking powers in Senate votes, Paz explains in his article, could make or break elements of Biden's agenda as president.

"Kamala Harris' vice presidency was already shaping up to be a uniquely consequential one," Paz notes. "Now, Democratic control of the Senate has propelled her to the front of the political scene, where she'll be breaking ties and giving President Joe Biden's legislative agenda a chance at life."

Paz adds, "Being part of the president's deliberative process is already a major step for a vice president — before Walter Mondale, the office lacked any precedent or model for West Wing power-sharing. Now, Biden and Harris may offer a vision of an even more empowered vice president, able to champion legislation herself, use her bully pulpit, and potentially break ties to protect her own policy priorities. No vice president has done all of that before, but Harris could."

Paz notes that in the U.S., the vice president has, since Richard Nixon's presidency, "served primarily as a member of the executive branch" — and that "modern veeps rarely spend time in the Senate except on ceremonial occasions." But because Democrats have so slim a Senate majority during Biden's presidency, Paz stresses, Harris could have a crucial effect on the federal government's legislative branch.

In the past — when the U.S. wasn't as politically polarized as it is now — Democrats and Republicans had plenty of vigorous debates in the Senate but also managed to find common ground. Centrist Biden, during his decades in the Senate, prided himself on his ability to push bipartisan legislation — and he had a productive relationship with the late conservative Republican Sen. John McCain, whose widow, Cindy McCain, endorsed him over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. But McConnell, on the other hand, is an unapologetic, relentlessly combative partisan — and as Senate minority leader, McConnell is now, arguably, the most powerful Republican in post-Trump Washington, D.C.

If a Senate vote is really close, Harris could be the difference between whether a bill that Biden supports does or doesn't get passed.

"Harris may have to break even more ties than (former Vice President Mike) Pence did — especially on cabinet picks, coronavirus-relief bills and electoral reforms, all of which are priorities for the Democrats, as my colleague Elaine Godfrey has reported," Paz explains. "Harris may end up being the public face of these deliberations — unless relatively moderate senators like Joe Manchin, Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski cross party lines."


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