Barack Obama, the Veto-Less President

If the Republicans take over the Senate in this year's election, as now looks likely, one thing seems certain: President Obama will be issuing a lot of vetoes in the next two years. Or maybe not over the whole two years, but certainly at first. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 2006, there would be an initial spasm of pointless legislating, as they set about to fulfill the promises they've made over the course of Obama's presidency: repealing the Affordable Care Act, slashing environmental protections, cutting taxes, establishing "the Reagan" as the new currency to replace the dollar, and so on.

The prospect of future veto fights highlights an extraordinary fact: Obama has issued fewer vetoes than any president in modern (and even not-so-modern) American history. He has vetoed a grand total of two bills: the Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act of 2010, which had to do with home foreclosures, and a continuing resolution that had been rendered moot by another spending bill that had passed. No dramatic veto showdowns, and no public navel-gazing (as with George W. Bush's first veto, of a bill providing for embryonic stem-cell research).

In fact, if we exclude James Garfield, who served only a few months before being assassinated, you have to go over a century and a half back to Millard Fillmore to find a president who vetoed fewer bills than Obama. Among two-term presidents, only Jefferson (with zero vetoes) and Washington (with 2) issued as few as Obama has at this point.

But I know what you want: a chart. So here you are:

Does this mean Obama is uniquely conciliatory? No. It's happened mostly because Democrats have controlled the Senate throughout his presidency, and we're in an age of high party loyalty, which means very few defections. So there just haven't been any bills passing both houses that Obama objects to, because such a bill would require Democratic senators to join with Republicans.

On the other hand, there haven't been very many bills passing at all. If Republicans take the Senate, there will be. At that point, I'm guessing that Republicans will start arguing that the very act of a presidential veto is a tyrannical encroachment on the people's will. 

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