Vice President Mike Pence voted to break a 50-50 tie Tuesday during the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Education. To the Constitutionally-literate, this wasn’t significant news. But for many who oppose DeVos, the vote was seen as inappropriate.
“Today VP Mike Pence did something no one else has ever done: cast the tie breaking vote on his own cabinet nominee. #RiggedCabinet,” tweeted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) 7 February 2017
Article 1, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution explicitly grants the Vice President the power to break 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.”
Shortly after the vote, Pence released the following tweet:
— Vice President Pence (@VP) 7 February 2017
Senate Democrats, along with two Republican and two independent senators, voted no to DeVos’s confirmation. Opponents have labeled DeVos as unqualified to lead the Department of Education, with some accusing her of being against public education.
Disagreement over Vice President Pence’s tie-breaking vote is primarily the result of a disapproval of DeVos, and not over the Vice President’s constitutional right to act in such a manner.
It is certainly unlikely that any vice president would break with the president to oppose a cabinet secretary nomination they both have endorsed. While today’s tie-breaker was a first, it wasn’t unexpected.