Presidential Vetoes, 1789-Present: A Summary Overview

This report discusses the veto power vested in the President by Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution. It provides a general overview and a table of presidential vetoes from 1789-2004, listing the coincident Congresses, regular vetoes, pocket vetoes, total vetoes, and vetoes overridden for each president.

Order Code 98-148 Updated April 7, 2004 CRS Report for Congress Received through the CRS Web Presidential Vetoes, 1789-Present: A Summary Overview Mitchel A. Sollenberger Analyst in American National Government Government and Finance Division Summary The veto power vested in the President by Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution has proved to be an effective tool for the chief executive in his dealings with Congress. Since the beginning of the federal government in 1789, 35 of 43 Presidents have exercised their veto authority a total of 2,550 times. Of that total number, 1,484 have been returned vetoes — that is, the rejected legislation was returned to the congressional house of origin, while it was in session, with a presidential message of explanation — and 1,066 were pocket vetoed, or rejected while Congress was adjourned. Congress has challenged the President’s veto 313 times and succeeded in overriding on 106 occasions. How Vetoes Work After legislation has been approved by both houses of Congress and presented to the President, he may sign it into law within the 10-day period prescribed in the Constitution, let it become law without his signature, or veto it. To become law, congressionally approved bills and joint resolutions, except those proposing amendments to the Constitution, must be presented to the President for final action. Amendments to the Constitution, which require a two-thirds vote in each house, are sent directly to the states for approval. If Congress is in session when the President exercises his veto authority, the disapproved bill is returned to the house where it originated, along with a presidential message explaining the reasons for its rejection. To sustain a veto, the President needs the vote of only one more than one-third of a quorum in either the House of Representatives or the Senate.1 1 A quorum is defined as the number of members whose presence is necessary for the transaction of business. In the Senate and House, it is a majority of the membership (when there are no vacancies, this is 51 in the Senate and 218 in the House). A quorum is 100 in the Committee of the Whole House. Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress CRS-2 If Congress has adjourned, preventing the return of a bill, the President may withhold his signature beyond the constitutionally prescribed 10-day action period and the bill neither becomes law nor is returned to Congress for further action. This practice has been dubbed a “pocket veto.” Unlike the situation when a vetoed bill is returned to a house in session, Congress does not have an opportunity or constitutional authority to override a pocket veto. Congressional procedure for reconsidering vetoed legislation is similar in both the House and the Senate. Congressional action on a vetoed measure begins when the President returns the bill to the house of origin along with a veto message indicating his objections. Once the vetoed legislation has been received, the originating chamber is constitutionally required “to reconsider” the vetoed bill. The Constitution is silent, however, on the definition of “reconsideration.” In lieu of constitutional direction, House and Senate procedures and tradition govern the treatment of vetoed bills returned by the President. Upon receiving a vetoed bill, the President’s message is read into the journal of the house to which it was directed, and the constitutional requirement “to reconsider” is realized by laying the measure on the table, referring the bill back to committee, postponing consideration to a certain day, or immediately voting to override. Table 1. Presidential Vetoes, 1789-Present: A Summary Overview Coincident Congresses Regular Vetoes Pocket Vetoes Total Vetoes Vetoes Overridden Washington 1st-4th 2 — 2 — Adams 5th-6th — — — — Jefferson 7th-10th — — — — Madison 11th-14th 5 2 7 — Monroe 15th-18th 1 — 1 — J. Q. Adams 19th-20th — — — — Jackson 21st-24th 5 7 12 — Van Buren 25th-26th — 1 1 — 27th — — — — Tyler 27th-28th 6 4 10 1 Polk 29th-30th 2 1 3 — 31st — — — — Fillmore 31st-32nd — — — — Pierce 33rd-34th 9 — 9 5 Buchanan 35th-36th 4 3 7 — Lincoln 37th-39th 2 5 7 — President W. H. Harrison Taylor th A. Johnson 39 -40th 21 8 29 15 Grant 41st-44th 45 48 93 4 12 1 13 1 Hayes th 45 -46th CRS-3 Coincident Congresses Regular Vetoes Pocket Vetoes Total Vetoes Vetoes Overridden 47th — — — — Arthur 47th-48th 4 8 12 1 Cleveland 49th-50th 304 110 414 2 B. Harrison 51st-52nd 19 25 44 1 Cleveland 53rd-54th 42 128 170 5 McKinley 55th-57th 6 36 42 — T. Roosevelt 57th-60th 42 40 82 1 H. Taft 61st-62nd 30 9 39 1 Wilson 63rd-66th 33 11 44 6 Harding 67th 5 1 6 — Coolidge 68th-70th 20 30 50 4 Hoover 71st-72nd 21 16 37 3 F. D. Roosevelt 73rd-79th 372 263 635 9 Truman 79th-82nd 180 70 250 12 Eisenhower 83rd-86th 73 108 181 2 Kennedy 87th-88th 12 9 21 — L. B. Johnson 88th-90th 16 14 30 — Nixon 91st-93rd 26 17 43 7 Ford 93rd-94th 48 18 66 12 Carter 95th-96th 13 18 31 2 97th-100th 39 39 78 9 G. H. W. Bush 101st-102nd 29 15 44 1 Clinton 103rd-106th 36 1 37 2 G. W. Bush 107th-108th — — — — 1,484 1,066 2,550 106 President Garfield Reagan 2 Total Sources: U.S. Congress, Senate, Secretary of the Senate, Presidential Vetoes, 1789-1988, S.Pub. 10212, 103rd Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington: GPO, 1992); U.S. Congress, Senate, Secretary of the Senate, Presidential Vetoes, 1989-1991, S.Pub.102-13, 103rd Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington: GPO, 1992). 2 President George H. W. Bush attempted to pocket veto two bills during intrasession recess periods. Congress considered the two bills enacted into law because of the President’s failure to return the legislation. The bills are not counted as pocket vetoes in this table.