Joe Biden On The Verge Of Setting A Record For Vice-Presidents

Unless something happens in the next ten days, Joe Biden will become the first two-term Vice-President who didn't need to cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

Joe Biden Senate Presiding

Unless something happens between now and next Friday, Joe Biden is set to leave office as one of only a handful of Vice-Presidents who has never cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate, and the only two-term Vice-President to have this distinction:

Joe Biden is poised to leave office on Jan. 20 with a distinction — the longest-serving vice president to never cast a tie-breaking vote in the U.S. Senate.

The Constitution assigns few duties to vice presidents. One of them, breaking ties in the Senate — “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided” — used to happen more frequently. In the first 114 years after the Constitution took effect, vice presidents broke 177 ties, according to data compiled by the Senate Historical Office. In the past 114 years, they’ve broken 67.

Since Biden became vice president eight years ago, the Senate has taken nearly 1,500 roll-call votes requiring a simple majority — none have required Biden’s vote to break a tie. Barring a tie in the last week and a half of his term, Biden will be the only vice president who has served more than one term without breaking a tie.

Aside from Biden, 11 vice presidents never cast a tie-breaking vote. Unlike Biden, none of those served more than one term. Only two others — Charles Fairbanks (Theodore Roosevelt’s vice president) and Dan Quayle (George H.W. Bush’s vice president) — served even a full single term. John Adams, the first vice president, broke 29 ties, the most of anyone to occupy the office.

The current gap between tie-breaking votes — eight years, nine months, 28 days and counting — is, so far, shorter than the longest gap in U.S. history: Between Feb. 14, 1899, and Feb. 2, 1911 — nearly 12 years — the vice president didn’t cast a Senate vote.

As FiveThirtyEight’s Aaron Rycoffe notes at the linked article, there are a number of reasons that it’s likely that this has happened.

First among these is the fact that, for the most part, the partisan make-up of the Senate has made it unlikely that there would be tie votes to begin with. When Biden first took office, for example, the Democratic majority fluctuated between 60 seats, albeit that only lasted for a brief period, and 57 seats. (Source) The Democratic majority for the next two years was slightly smaller during the next two years was smaller, down to between 53 or 52 seats depending on when you looked at the actual number it was still a sizable enough majority assuming it stayed united. (Source) For the two years after the 2012 election, the Democratic majority was higher at 55 or 54 seats depending on the particular time you looked at the numbers. (Source) Finally, following the 2014 midterms, the Republican majority was  54 seats throughout the two years of the 114th Congress. (Source) For the most part, the size of these majorities made a tie vote unlikely since they required at least two and, at one point, as many as ten Senators to defect from the party line or otherwise not cast a vote for whatever reason. Additionally, while defections may have been likely among party caucuses in the Senate in the past, the increase in partisanship and party loyalty on both sides of the aisle in recent years means that it is far less likely that there would be defections among the contemporary Senators than in the past. Finally, the fact that current Senate practice has seemingly placed more importance on the sixty-vote majority needed to break cloture than on the simple majority needed to pass laws under normal order. In fact, in many cases, the two parties have operated under the agreement that a successful vote on breaking cloture would make a separate vote on passage unnecessary. Thus, Biden has had essentially no realistic opportunity to cast a tie-breaking vote, putting him in the small company of those Vice-Presidents without a tie-breaking vote and in a unique position among two-term Vice-Presidents.

Rycoffe notes that it’s more likely that Vice-President-Elect Pence might have the opportunity to cast a tie-breaking vote given that the GOP majority presently stands at  52 to 48. I’d suggest, however, that the same factors that made the need for a tie-breaking vote unlikely during Biden’s tenure as Vice-President will also make it unlikely at least for the first two years of Pence’s tenure as Vice-President, however long that might last. In fact, I don’t think it’s at all unlikely that we could see the record mentioned above, in which the Senate went more than twelve years from 1899 and 1911 without needing a tie-breaking vote. This time, it would mean no tie-breaking votes until at least early 2012, something which seems entirely feasible given how the Senate has operated in recent years. At the very least, though, Vice-President Biden’s record looks as though it will stand for some time to come.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    Have we ever seen such a drastic drop in the quality of office holders as we are seeing this cycle? We lose decent, emotional, genuine Joe Biden and get that malicious cretin Pence. And we trade serious, smart, elegant Barack Obama for the pussy-grabbin’, man-baby who does impersonations of handicapped people and brags about his dick. It’s like trading the Rolling Stones for a Nickelback tribute band.

    We are entering a real low point in American politics. All we need to do now is figure out how to grow bananas.

  2. Pete S says:

    @michael reynolds: Judging by Trump’s energy “plans”, growing bananas in the continental US will not be a problem for long.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    OT, but Told You So. Yeah, I’m capping it like a headline, just be glad I didn’t call all caps.

    Trump is owned by Putin. Bromance my ass, he is owned.

    (CNN)Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.

    The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.

    As an aside to Trumputin, this is why only a knob is dumb enough to pick a fight with the CIA before you’ve got your new intel chiefs in place. Amateur.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Ah! It’s. . . wait for it. . . Watersportsgate! (Not my joke.)

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds: Holy effing face of Christ in a piece of burnt toast. Speaking of burnt toast, it was a nice country while it lasted.

  6. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds: Many people enjoy watersports. John Kerry, for instance, is a big fan of windsurfing.

    Compared to bragging about sexual assault, and wandering into the dressing rooms of Miss Teen USA, hiring a professional Russian water polo team seems reasonably quaint.

    And his financial connections in Russia are just good business. There is nothing to be seen here that would embarrass anyone.

    (I mostly feel bad for all the perfectly nice liquidity enthusiasts who are going to be compared to Trump)

  7. Tyrell says:

    “Joltin’ Joe”

  8. michael reynolds says:

    We are now living in a bad parody of a LeCarré story.

  9. Slugger says:

    I think we should be leery about these allegations of misdeeds by Mr. Trump. We should at least wait till we hear from the official spokesman for the Republican Party, Mr. David Vitter.

  10. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Pete S: I was going to suggest planting them in Hawai’i, but I can see your point. Well played!

  11. KM says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Jesus, that’s a level of juvenile pointlessly petty I didn’t even think he had. Deliberately getting the same bed to “defile” just as an FU to the President who had NO idea what was happening and probably wouldn’t care even if he did? That’s some seriously teenage emo BS right there. Does he listen to MCR and cry while rage Tweeting in early hours of the day too? Or imitate Ebony Dark’ness Raven Dementia Way in hating on all those fake goffs – *sobs* I HATE YOU DAD OBAMA!!! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND MY PAIN!!11!!! TAKE THISI!!!

    Of all the ways Trump could kill us, laughing was not the one I saw coming.

  12. C. Clavin says:

    Probably no one paying attention to this thread anymore…but Obama just gave Biden the Medal of Freedom.
    One of the best VP’s ever…good on him.