The Presidential Veto

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The President of the United States has extraordinary power over the shaping of federal laws: He or she can veto any law passed by Congress.

Just the threat of a veto is enough to get Congress to change elements of a bill that a President doesn't like.

The veto is a big NO, the opposite of a rubber stamp. It means that even though a majority of both the House of Representatives and the Senate approve of a bill, the bill won't become law because the President has vetoed it. … Unless ...

The Constitution has a provision that allows Congress to override a President's veto, provided that two-thirds of each house votes for the bill again. In the House, which has 435 members, the two-thirds number is 290. Two-thirds of the Senate's 100 members is 67.

Congress's overriding of a Presidential veto is rare, but it does happen. According the U.S. Government, the 44 Presidents have issued a total of 2571 vetoes, of which 109 have been overridden.

The President has two veto options, actually. If Congress passes a bill and then adjourns (such as at Christmas or on a summer or other holiday break), the President can refuse to sign the bill. If no presidential signature is on the bill after 10 days, the bill does not become a law. This nonaction is called a pocket veto, since the President is figuratively taking the bill from his desk and putting it in his pocket, so as not to sign it and thus give it his approval.

George Washington issued the first ever presidential veto, on April 5, 1792. The bill would have changed the way that seats in the House of Representatives were apportioned in order to benefit northern states. Washington's veto was a political compromise (not wanting to antagonize the southern states even at the expense of losing some support from northern states); also, Washington concluded that the bill was unconstitutional.

Some Presidents issued more vetoes than others. Not surprisingly, Franklin D. Roosevelt served up the most, issuing 635 in his 12 years in office. A grand total of 9 of those vetoes were overridden by Congress. (Roosevelt was a particular fan of the pocket veto, setting aside 263 bills that then expired 10 days after their passage.)

Grover Cleveland vetoed the second-most number of bills. In his two nonconsecutive terms, Cleveland disapproved of 584 bills sent to him by Congress (which voted to approve just 7 over the presidential veto).

Seven Presidents issued no vetoes: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, and James Garfield.

Some Presidents had all their vetoes stick. Those whose vetoes were never overridden are George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Martin van Buren, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley (despite 42 vetoes), Warren G. Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.

The President whose vetoes were overridden the most was Andrew Johnson, who saw 15 of his 29 vetoes become laws anyway thanks to overwhelming support in Congress.

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