Vice President Mike Pence made history today — but he did so in one of the most controversial ways possible. As president of the Senate, Pence cast the tie-breaking vote on Tuesday that sealed Betsy Devos' appointment as education secretary. However, considering that vice presidents aren't usually allowed to cast votes in the Senate, many are wondering just how and why Mike Pence broke the Betsy DeVos tie. Here's a quick explainer.
As it turns out, vice presidents are only allowed to weigh in on Cabinet nominations in the Senate if they come down to a tie, in which case they step in to cast that crucial tie-breaking vote. Before today, that role was only hypothetical: while vice presidents have broken other ties in Congress, this is the first time a vice president has cast the deciding vote in a Cabinet confirmation.
How often vice-presidents have to cast tie-breaking votes depends, of course, on Senate happenings and the partisan split in the Senate. Dick Cheney broke eight ties during his time as vice president (which is unsurprising, considering there was a 50-50 Democrat-Republican split in the Senate), while Joe Biden never had to break any deadlocks. With a Republican majority in the Senate for this administration, Pence's need to break the DeVos tie was surprising — but two Republicans opposed her confirmation, leading to a deadlock over her appointment.
Pence's vote for DeVos, however, was far less surprising than his need to cast a vote in the first place. According to The Guardian, Pence told Fox News on Sunday that the Trump Administration was "very confident" that DeVos would be running the U.S. Department of Education, making it clear that he favored the GOP mega-donor for the role. He continued:
It would be my high honor to cast the deciding tie-breaking vote on the floor of the Senate next week.
After casting the vote that led DeVos to victory, Pence also tweeted, "Today’s vote to confirm Education Secretary [Betsy DeVos] was a vote for every child having a chance at a world-class education."
With Pence's vote tipping the scales 51 to 50, DeVos was confirmed as education secretary, and Pence made history as the first vice president to break a tie on a Cabinet nomination. DeVos' appointment is now set, but considering the razor-thin margin that led to her victory, it's clear that many Democrats — not to mention a few Republicans — will be watching her moves at the Department of Education very closely from here on out.