WASHINGTON, D.C. (KERO) — A lot is changing in national politics this week. President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn into office and so will Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who is stepping down from her U.S. Senate seat in California.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will still be playing a critical role in the U.S. Senate because its members are currently split evenly along party lines; 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. That leaves the potential for many votes to be a 50-50 tie and that’s where Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will come in.
“So you’re going to need a tie-breaking vote, and that tie-breaking vote is going to be coming from the Vice President-elect,” said Dr. Ivy Cargile, assistant professor of political science at CSUB.
Not only will Kamala Harris be leaving her role as the Junior U.S. Senator from California she will also be making history as the first woman, first black person, and first Indian-American Vice President. She will also play a major role in the U.S.' policy-making moving forward.
“I’m not saying goodbye. In many ways, I’m saying hello as your Vice President,” said Kamala Harris.
The Vice President typically has pretty minimal duties, but the fact that Harris will be the tiebreaker in the Senate means she could be one of the more powerful VP's in recent history. The last time the Senate was split evenly was in 2001 when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney took office. Harris’s power will depend on whether or not all members of the Senate vote along party lines. For example, if one Democrat decides to defect on a vote, Harris would have no say, because that vote would be 51-49, and she only breaks 50-50 ties.
“So it’s only going to be in those instances where the majority leader will be able to keep all Democrats in line," said Dr. Cargile.
Dr. Cargile says it’s usually up to the president to decide how significant a role a VP will play in their administration. Cheney played a major role in convincing President Bush to go to war against Iraq. President Trump appointed Mike Pence to lead the coronavirus task force. Cargile says Biden and Harris have historically worked well together, and that will likely carry on into the new administration.
“I’m pretty sure he's going to be handing off a significant amount of work to Vice President-elect Harris where she can show her strengths where he probably doesn't have the strengths that she has,” said Dr. Cargile.
The question of how exactly Biden and Harris will work together will be answered soon as the pair will be inaugurated Wednesday. But back here in California, former Secretary of State Alex Padilla was formally appointed as Harris's replacement in the U.S. Senate on Monday, he is the first Latino to hold that office.