Last Updated September 29, 2016
Article I, section 7 of the Constitution grants the President the authority to veto legislation passed by Congress. This authority is one of the most significant tools the President can employ to prevent the passage of legislation. Even the threat of a veto can bring about changes in the content of legislation long before the bill is ever presented to the President. The Constitution provides the President 10 days (excluding Sundays) to act on legislation or the legislation automatically becomes law. There are two types of vetoes: the “regular veto” and the “pocket veto.”
The regular veto is a qualified negative veto. The President returns the unsigned legislation to the originating house of Congress within a 10 day period usually with a memorandum of disapproval or a “veto message.” Congress can override the President’s decision if it musters the necessary two–thirds vote of each house. President George Washington issued the first regular veto on April 5, 1792. The first successful congressional override occurred on March 3, 1845, when Congress overrode President John Tyler’s veto of S. 66.
The pocket veto is an absolute veto that cannot be overridden. The veto becomes effective when the President fails to sign a bill after Congress has adjourned and is unable to override the veto. The authority of the pocket veto is derived from the Constitution’s Article I, section 7, “the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case, it shall not be law.” Over time, Congress and the President have clashed over the use of the pocket veto, debating the term “adjournment.” The President has attempted to use the pocket veto during intra- and inter- session adjournments and Congress has denied this use of the veto. The Legislative Branch, backed by modern court rulings, asserts that the Executive Branch may only pocket veto legislation when Congress has adjourned sine die from a session. President James Madison was the first President to use the pocket veto in 1812.
|Congresses||President||Regular Vetoes||Pocket Vetoes||Total Vetoes||Vetoes Overridden|
|19th–20th||John Quincy Adams||.....||.....||.....||.....|
|25th–26th||Martin Van Buren||.....||1||1||.....|
|27th||William Henry Harrison||.....||.....||.....||.....|
|29th–30th||James K. Polk||2||1||3||.....|
|41st–44th||Ulysses S. Grant||45||48||93||4|
|45th–46th||Rutherford B. Hayes||12||1||13||1|
|47th||James A. Garfield||.....||.....||.....||.....|
|47th–48th||Chester A. Arthur||4||8||12||1|
|61st–62nd||William H. Taft||30||9||39||1|
|67th||Warren G. Harding||5||1||6||.....|
|71st–72nd||Herbert C. Hoover||21||16||37||3|
|73rd–79th||Franklin D. Roosevelt||372||263||635||9|
|79th–82nd||Harry S. Truman||180||70||250||12|
|83rd–86th||Dwight D. Eisenhower||73||108||181||2|
|87th–88th||John F. Kennedy||12||9||21||.....|
|88th–90st||Lyndon B. Johnson||16||14||30||.....|
|91st–93rd||Richard M. Nixon||26||17||43||7|
|93rd–94th||Gerald R. Ford||48||18||66||12|
|95th–96th||James Earl Carter||13||18||31||2|
|101st–102nd||George H. W. Bush1||29||15||44||1|
|103rd–106th||William J. Clinton2||36||1||37||2|
|107th–110th||George W. Bush3||12||.....||12||4|
|111th–114th||Barack H. Obama4||10||.....||10||1|
1President George H. W. Bush withheld his signature from two measures during intrasession recess periods (H.J. Res. 390, 101st Congress, 1st sess. and S. 1176, 102nd Congress, 1st sess.). See, “Permission to Insert in the Record Correspondence of the Speaker and the Minority Leader to the President Regarding Veto of House Joint Resolution 390, Authorizing Hand Enrollment of H.R. 1278, Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989, Along With Response From the Attorney General (House of Representatives - January 23, 1990),” Congressional Record, 101st Cong., 2nd sess., (January 23, 1990): H3. See, “Morris K. Udall Scholarship and Excellence in National Environmental and Native American Public Policy Act of 1992 (House of Representatives - March 03, 1992),” Congressional Record, 102nd Cong., 2nd sess., (March 3, 1992): H885-H889. The President withheld his signature from another measure during an intrasession recess period (H.R. 2699, 102nd Congress, 1st sess.) and from a measure during an intersession recess period (H.R. 2712, 101st Congress, 1st sess.) but returned both measures to the House, which proceeded to reconsider them. The measures are not included as pocket vetoes in this table.
2President William J. Clinton withheld his signature from two measures during intrasession recess periods (H.R. 4810, 106th Congress, 2nd sess., and H.R. 8, 106th Congress, 2nd sess.) but returned the bills to the House, which proceeded to reconsider them. See, “Pocket-Veto Power -- Hon. J. Dennis Hastert – (Extensions of Remarks - September 19, 2000),” Congressional Record, 106th Cong., 2nd sess., (September 19, 2000): E1523. The bills are not included as pocket vetoes in this table.
3President George W. Bush withheld his signature from a measure during an intersession recess period (H.R. 1585, 110th Congress, 1st Sess.) but returned the bill to the House, which proceeded to reconsider it. See, “Pocket-Veto Power – (Extensions of Remarks – October 2, 2008),” Congressional Record, 110th Cong., 1st Sess., (October 2, 2008): E2197. The bill is not included as a pocket veto in this table.
4President Barack H. Obama withheld his signature from a measure during an intersession recess period (H.J. Res 64, 111th Congress, 1st sess.) and from a measure during an intrasession recess period (H.R. 3808, 111th Congress, 2nd sess.) but returned both measures to the House, which proceeded to reconsider them. “Pocket-Veto Power – (Extensions of Remarks – May 26, 2010),” Congressional Record, 111th Cong., 1st sess., (May 26, 2010): E941. The measures are not included as pocket vetoes in this table.