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Obama the Most Veto-Shy President Since James Garfield

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Obama has issued just one veto every 435 days; the presidential average since 1881 is once every 20 days

barackobama05.jpgBarack Obama has been in office nearly 875 days, but his veto pen ink well is still nearly filled to the brim.

And that fact may be a powerful rhetorical weapon for the Republican nominee in 2012.

The nation's 44th President has vetoed only two bills as he approaches the 2.5-year mark into his administration, which Smart Politics finds is the most infrequent use of the president's veto power among the 23 men who have served since James Garfield died and Chester Arthur took office 130 years ago.

President Obama has vetoed one bill every 435 days he has been in office, or more than 20 times the average length of once per 20 days across the nearly two-dozen presidential administrations since 1881.

Obama's two vetoes to date were a stopgap appropriations bill on December 30, 2009 and a housing foreclosure bill on October 7, 2010.

(Sometimes the threat of a veto can be an effective tool, and Obama has publicly threatened to veto bills during the 112th Congress - such as House GOP legislation proposed earlier this spring when the government shutdown was looming).

Of course, there are several variables that impact the number of vetoes issued by the president, such as the amount of legislation that crosses his desk, divided government between the two chambers and/or the presidency, and the overall relationship and level of negotiation that exists during the legislative process between the two branches.

However, even though Obama worked with a Democratic-controlled Congress for the first 700+ days of his administration, his veto rate still lags far behind the seven presidents since 1881 who worked with a legislative branch controlled by their own party throughout the entirety of their tenure:

· Democrat Franklin Roosevelt vetoed one bill every 7 days
· Republican Teddy Roosevelt vetoed one bill every 33 days
· Republican William McKinley vetoed one bill every 39 days
· Republican Calvin Coolidge vetoed one bill every 41 days
· Democrat John Kennedy vetoed one bill every 49 days
· Democrat Lyndon Johnson vetoed one bill every 63 days
· Republican Warren Harding vetoed one bill every 147 days

(Note: Democrat Jimmy Carter vetoed one bill every 47 days, however the GOP took control of the Senate for the last 18 days of his administration after the 1980 election).

Democrat Grover Cleveland - who had to work with both Republican and Democratic-controlled chambers during his two terms in office, vetoed a bill once every five days - the most frequent of any president in U.S. history.

Over his 2,922 days in office from 1885-1889 and 1893-1897, Cleveland issued 584 vetoes - second only to FDR in total number (Roosevelt issued 635 during his 4,422 days in office).

Prior to Chester Arthur, the only presidents who regularly used their veto pen were Ulysses Grant and Andrew Johnson with seven presidents never issuing a single veto throughout their administration: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, William Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, and James Garfield. (Garfield was in office just 199 days before dying and Harrison only 31).

The Obama veto issue could be a symbolic tool for whomever emerges as the Republican nominee in 2012, with federal budget deficits and the national debt still at the forefront of the public's concerns as the economic recovery struggles to take hold.

A shrewd candidate would point out the correlation that as deficits and the debt have ballooned over the last decade to record levels, the two presidents who most infrequently vetoed legislation over the past 130 years were Obama and George W. Bush (once every 243.5 days).

Number of Days in Office Per Veto by Presidential Administration Since Chester Arthur (1881-present)

President
Vetoes
Days
Days Per Veto
Barack Obama
2
870
435.0
George W. Bush
12
2,922
243.5
Warren G. Harding
6
881
146.8
Chester A. Arthur
12
1,262
105.2
Bill Clinton
37
2,922
79.0
Woodrow Wilson
44
2,922
66.4
Lyndon B. Johnson
30
1,886
62.9
John F. Kennedy
21
1,036
49.3
Richard Nixon
43
2,027
47.1
Jimmy Carter
31
1,461
47.1
Calvin Coolidge
50
2,040
40.8
Herbert Hoover
37
1,461
39.5
William McKinley
42
1,654
39.4
Ronald Reagan
78
2,922
37.5
William Howard Taft
39
1,461
37.5
Theodore Roosevelt
82
2,728
33.3
George H. W. Bush
44
1,461
33.2
Benjamin Harrison
44
1,461
33.2
Dwight D. Eisenhower
181
2,922
16.1
Gerald Ford
66
895
13.6
Harry S. Truman
250
2,840
11.4
Franklin D. Roosevelt
635
4,422
7.0
Grover Cleveland
584
2,922
5.0
Total
2,370
47,378
20.0
Veto data source: United States Senate.

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12 Comments


  • Didn't GW Bush go well beyond his first term before any vetoes? At two in the first 2.5 years, Obama is definitely using it more than his immediate predecessor.

  • Seems like you're trying too hard to make this work. If memory serves, GW Bush went nearly (or a bit longer than) five years in office before his very first veto. To say that Obama uses it less when the first term is barely half over is a real stretch.

    At least give us the comparison to other Presidents at the same point in their first terms.

  • Yes - Bush 43's first veto did not come come until 2006. The comparison above was by administration.

    The last paragraph points out that Bush's vetoes across his eight years were the second least frequent by administration during this span.

  • Which is simply to say that he was veto heavy in the second term, when the legislature was less friendly to him than it was in his first. What's the stretch in that? It is a matter of the mean (i.e. # times veto used/ # days in office).

  • Also, if you look at the # of bills signed/vetoed, Obama has a lower veto rate (0.5 percent) than Bush 43 (0.7 percent), Clinton (2 percent), Bush 41 (3 percent), Reagan (3 percent) etc.

  • What evidence can you offer to back up this statement: "And that fact [i.e., Obama's infrequent use of the veto] may be a powerful rhetorical weapon for the Republican nominee in 2012."

    If you can analyze total vetoes over time, you should be able to look at the number of first term vetoes and reelection results. From the data presented, it appears that there's not much of a pattern among one term presidents vs. two term presidents--we see two-term Nixon and one-term Carter vetoing at the same rate, one-term G.H.W. Bush and reelected Teddy Roosevelt at the same rate, etc.

    I can think of two anecdotal bits that tend to contradict the thesis. It was not a powerful rhetorical weapon that George W. Bush hadn't vetoed a single bill in the 2004 election, and, had Clinton vetoed welfare reform in 1996, his pollsters told him he might well lose the election.

    I just don't think very many candidates will run on slogans like "Obama: He vetoes less than Chester A. Arthur." (Queue ominous music.)

  • Garfield was president for 6 months and didn't veto a bill. This makes him the "most veto shy president in history"?

    Seems like a weird standard. How many other presidents didn't veto a bill in their first six months?

  • One should only compare Obama’s veto history with other presidents who worked with a legislative branch controlled by their own party. It would be necessary to find out why those presidents had so many more vetoes than Obama.

    . Democrat Franklin Roosevelt vetoed one bill every 7 days
    • Republican Teddy Roosevelt vetoed one bill every 33 days
    • Republican William McKinley vetoed one bill every 39 days
    • Republican Calvin Coolidge vetoed one bill every 41 days
    • Democrat John Kennedy vetoed one bill every 49 days
    • Democrat Lyndon Johnson vetoed one bill every 63 days
    • Republican Warren Harding vetoed one bill every 147 days

    Maybe Obama just got along with his congress

  • How is this list even relevant:

    . Democrat Franklin Roosevelt vetoed one bill every 7 days
    • Republican Teddy Roosevelt vetoed one bill every 33 days
    • Republican William McKinley vetoed one bill every 39 days
    • Republican Calvin Coolidge vetoed one bill every 41 days
    • Democrat John Kennedy vetoed one bill every 49 days
    • Democrat Lyndon Johnson vetoed one bill every 63 days
    • Republican Warren Harding vetoed one bill every 147 days


    Obama working with a purely democratic congress in today's American politics means something much different than FDR working with a democratic congress during the Depression; or Teddy Roosevelt working with the GOP during the progressive era.

    This is an arbitrary correlation, you are completely ignoring the period of realignment of political ideologies (i.e., left & right) among the two political parties. Before this time there were progressives & conservatives in each party (not in a RELATIVE sense, but in a REAL-sense).

  • I would submit that the data you offer makes a more compelling case that use of the veto has declined in the last 10-12 years, perhaps because of the increase in information available about a President's intention to veto a bill long before it is voted on. As previous commenters have pointed out Bush also did not exercise his veto power often early in his term making the comparison of vetoes per day in office questionable until Obama's term is over or a correction of the rest of the data to the same point in each President's term. The statistic of pecentage of percentage of total bills vetoed is more representative of a President's willingness or tendency to use their veto powers, however it still is not a true comparison since it compares Obama's partial term to other President's full term, which could again cause the data to be misleading if there is a trend of the number or proportion of vetoes rising or falling at the end of the term. As far as I can tell this data could just as easily be used to support a claim that Obama is the President that the House and Senate are most afraid of crossing, resulting in the lowest percentage of bills submitted which he objected to enough to veto. The format of your post makes it clear you would like readers to reach the conclusion that Obama's use of the veto is dramatically lower than ever before. However once a reader makes it past the strong declarations in the headline and opening paragraphs there are several alternate theories posed which could also explain the rate, which is actually 0.2% lower than his immediate predicesor. The most questionable claim however is the suggestion that his Republican opponent will draw some correlation between the number of vetoes per day in office and an increase in debt. I will grant you that politicians from both parties have used some fairly dubious and even outright false claims about their opponents; however I just don't see this one having much effect. If I happen to be wrong though Obama should claim that he avoided using the veto because of a statistical link between not using the veto and not being attacked by dinosaurs. This claim might sound ridiculous, however it is statistically valid; isn't statistics fun.

    Ben M

  • Picking Garfield for a camparison is a very poor choice for two reasons
    1) He only served 200 days before being assinated
    2) The world when Garfield was president was nothing like the world we live in now.

    This is just a typical hack job articla by a writer with an agenda.

  • If this is yall hobbies hall need to live life

  • Leave a comment


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