One of the hallmarks of the United States’ political system is its checks and balances, a system devised by the country’s Founding Fathers. It was designed to ensure that no one branch of government—Executive, Legislative, or Judicial—would hold unchecked power. A key aspect of this system is the power of the president to veto legislation passed by Congress, and the reciprocal ability of Congress to override that veto. In this article, we will delve into the specifics of how Congress can override a presidential veto.
Before we talk about overriding a veto, it’s important to understand what a presidential veto entails. A presidential veto is the power of the president to reject a bill passed by both houses of Congress— the Senate and the House of Representatives. Once the bill is vetoed, it is returned to Congress with the reasons for its rejection. It’s essential to note that not all vetoes are absolute; if the president does nothing for ten days while Congress is in session, the bill becomes law. However, if Congress adjourns during this 10-day period, the bill does not become law, a situation referred to as a pocket veto.
The Override Process
Now that we have a grasp of the presidential veto, let’s delve into the process of overriding it. The U.S. Constitution outlines the process in Article 1, Section 7, Clause 2. For a veto to be overridden, a bill must be re-passed by both houses of Congress with a two-thirds majority. This requirement means that if all members are present and voting, 290 out of 435 representatives in the House and 67 out of 100 senators in the Senate must vote in favor of the bill.
The House and Senate
Upon receiving a veto message from the president, the chamber where the bill originated typically makes the first attempt to override the veto. For example, if a bill began in the House, the House would first vote on the override. A successful override vote in the first chamber sends the bill to the other chamber, which must also pass it with a two-thirds majority.
Congressional Sessions and Timelines
There is no set timeline for when Congress must act to override a veto, but it typically happens relatively soon after the veto is issued. However, Congress can only act to override a veto when it’s in session. If a session ends before the override can be completed, the process does not carry over to the next session. The bill is effectively dead, and the process must start anew in the next session if lawmakers wish to pursue the legislation again.
Frequency and Success Rate
Overriding a presidential veto is not common due to the high threshold of votes needed. It requires significant bipartisan agreement, which is often difficult to achieve in the modern polarized political landscape. As of my knowledge cutoff in 2021, since the founding of the United States, presidents have issued over 2,500 vetoes, and Congress has overridden them approximately 110 times.
The ability of Congress to override a presidential veto is a critical aspect of the checks and balances system in the United States. While challenging, this process allows Congress to assert its authority and pursue its legislative agenda, even when faced with presidential opposition. It underscores the interdependent nature of the branches of government and the ongoing necessity for collaboration and compromise in the pursuit of governance.