Five Facts on the History of Presidential Vetoes

Last week, President Trump announced that he would not sign legislation to fund the government if it did not include enough money for a U.S.–Mexico border wall, despite the quickly approaching Sept. 30 deadline. President Trump stressed that his stance is rooted in concern for Americans’ safety. Should the president veto this legislation, the federal government could be headed towards another shutdown. However, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell stressed that there was “no chance” of a shutdown happening, perhaps because Congress will use its power to override the veto. 

According to Fox News, Congress has overridden “dozens” of presidential vetoes since World War II. The outlet cites Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy as the only two post-war presidents to never have Congress override any of their vetoes.

Here are five facts on presidential vetoes, some of which were ultimately overridden by Congress:

1. In 1974, President Gerald Ford vetoed a bill that would strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, a bill first enacted in 1967 and designed to ease the process of citizens obtaining government records. Prior to the veto, President Ford had made it clear he would not support the bill, despite the American public’s call for greater government accountability in the wake of the Watergate scandal. However, just over a month later, both the House and the Senate voted to override the president’s veto, and FOIA was both expanded and streamlined.

2. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan pocket vetoed “The Clean Water Act,” despite both the House and the Senate passing the bill unanimously. This bill would have provided funding to improve the quality of the nation’s lakes and rivers. According to the Los Angeles Times, President Reagan issued the veto while Congress was out of session, making it impossible for it to be overridden. While President Reagan vowed to work with the next Congress to create a better bill, he vetoed similar legislation in early 1987. This time, Congress overrode the veto, and the funding was secured.

3. In 1996, President Bill Clinton vetoed a bill that would have prohibited doctors from performing what was then called “partial-birth abortion,” a type of late-term abortion. In defending his decision to veto the bill, President Clinton invoked his own experience becoming a parent, and also cited the painful decisions women with very high-risk pregnancies face. While the House voted to override the veto, the Senate ultimately could not assemble enough votes to do so.

4. In 2006, President George W. Bush vetoed a bill that would have lifted restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, citing that it would force Americans to fund the “deliberate destruction” of human embryos. President Bush vetoed this legislation despite polls that showed 75 percent of Americans supported such research. Less than a year later, President Bush vetoed a second bill that would have allowed for federal funds to be used for such research.

5. In 2016, President Obama vetoed a bill that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for being complicit in the deadly terrorist attacks, citing that this could prove to be a national security threat. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and 9/11 families all expressed their dismay over the veto. However, Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate came together to override the veto, the first such occurrence of the Obama presidency. The bill itself was a bipartisan effort, introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). 

No Labels is an organization of Democrats, Republicans, and independents working to bring American leaders together to solve problems.

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