Obama’s First Veto Override

As they said they would, the House and the Senate delivered an overwhelming veto override of Obama on the 9/11 victims bill, far beyond the 2/3rds required. This is the first veto override Obama has been dealt in response to his 13th veto – the Senate vote was 97 to 1 and the House vote was 348 to 77, a “sweeping, bipartisan rejection of pleas from the White House to back the president”.

“Obama’s Democratic allies on Capitol Hill provided scant support for the president’s position with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) casting the lone vote to sustain the veto after receiving a letter from the president arguing the consequences of an override could be “devastating.””

This is a great example for almost the whole of Unit 4 – the Constitution, President and Congress – but also for Unit 3 when thinking about parties and elections.

Traditionally, veto overrides are more common towards the end of a presidency – this is attributed to a number of factors. The public looking to the new president/presidential race, therefore a loss of popularity; the likely loss of one or both houses of Congress by the six-year point of a presidency and possible impact therefore of partisanship. Bush’s 4 veto overrides, for example, all came once the Democrats controlled Congress (indeed, all of his 11 vetoes also came once the Democrats controlled Congress!). This veto override could perhaps be a signal of Obama’s decreasing strength, and potential ‘lame duck presidency’ as his time in office approaches an end. This is really useful evidence when discussing the effectiveness of checks and balances, as well as the powers of Congress and the President.

However, the numbers involved in this override suggest it was more than just party politics – many Democrats also voted agianst Obama. This is useful for Unit 3 therefore when looking at party unity. Many Democrats, especially those in the House of Reps will be looking towards their re-election in November and weighing up whether supporting Obama or not may help their campaign (hence also useful for elections). The fact that many Democrats voted against Obama shows the importance of the frequent election cycle, as well as the success of bipartisanship in the Constitution (Unit 4).

Importantly, when discussing any of this for 45 marks, be aware that the circumstances of the day are most crucial – how long has the President served? When are the next elections? What is public opinion? It is rarely as simple as it being the end of 8 years in office and therefore the president being weak.