How to Override a Veto

How many votes does it take to override a veto?

With a Republican in the White House and the Democrats controlling Congress these days, the possibility of a presidential veto becomes much more likely. Whenever a veto happens, people inevitably want to know what a veto is and how a veto can be overruled by Congress. Here’s the answer.

Why The Veto?

In Section 7 of Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, it states that all legislation passed by Congress requires the President to sign it into law. This process was created by the framers of the Constitution as part of the separation of powers.

“Separation of powers” means that no individual in our government holds all the power. Each branch of government has oversight of the other branches. One of the president’s oversight responsibilities is the veto. The president, head of the executive branch of government, oversees the lawmaking powers of the legislative branch, the Congress.

How Law Making Works

Congress occasionally votes on law proposals called bills. If a bill is passed in one house of Congress (that is, either the House of Representatives or the Senate), then it is proposed in the other house of Congress. Note that both houses must pass the bill with a simple majority vote.

When the bill is accepted in both houses, then the bill is sent to the White House for the president’s acceptance. If the president approves congressional legislation, he signs the bill into law. The president has ten days to sign the bill into law.

Within the these ten days, if the president returns the bill to Congress without a signature, he has vetoed the bill. If the president does not return the bill within those ten days, the bill automatically becomes law.

Overriding a Veto

A president is required to state his objections to any legislation he vetoes. Alternately, the Congress is required to consider the president’s objections as a form of recommendation. The Congress can choose to vote on recommended changes to the bill and send it to the president for his signing. It can let the legislation drop, which is what usually happens. Or, the Congress can attempt to override the veto.

To override a presidential veto, both houses of congress must pass a bill by a two-thirds majority. This is called a super-majority. In the Senate, this means a bill must have 67 (out of 100) votes. In the House of Representatives, a bill must pass with 290 out of 435 votes.

If this happens, a bill immediately becomes law.

Veto Politics

A person with even a passing knowledge of American politics should know how difficult a super-majority would be to form. Currently, the Senate is divided between 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and 1 Independent voting with the Democratic caucus. The House of Representatives has 233 Democrats, 201 Republicans and 1 vacant seat.

Assuming the president would be more likely to veto a Democratic bill, let us talk about a theoretical veto. In a day when neither side has an overwhelming majority, this means that one party would have to convince a sizable number of politicians from the other party to “cross the aisle” to support a vetoed bill.

To override a veto in the current situation, the Democrats would need to gain 16 Republican votes in the Senate and 57 votes in the House, while not losing a single Democratic vote. Since it is common for most congressmen to vote with their party on any particular vote, it is highly unlikely that this many congressmen would have to vote with the other party on what would naturally be a politically-charged vote.

This would require a congressman to directly align oneself with one’s normal political opponents against one’s party and national leader. This is unlikely to happen.

Threatening the Veto

When the president threatens to veto a bill, this is a warning to Congress it is a waste of their time to debate and vote on a proposed bill. It would take an issue with overwhelming popular support to convince congressmen to join a super majority. Since America is divided on most issues, there are few bills which could withstand a president veto. So this threat carries a lot of weight.

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