Until yesterday, Joe Biden was in the no-veto presidents club, along with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore and James A. Garfield. But not anymore, because the President did as promised and vetoed the Congressional resolution that would have overturned a Dept. of Labor rule allowing retirement plan managers to consider environmental and social factors in investment decisions. Since the rule was the work of the Biden administration, it's not so surprising that Biden would like to see it remain in place.
This resolution only got past the Senate because reviews of new executive branch rules cannot be filibustered. There is zero chance the votes are there to override the veto, so the net result of the whole thing was to allow the Republicans, and the handful of Democrats who voted for the bill, to do some posturing about wokeness and socialism and yadda-yadda-yadda. After the veto became official, right on cue, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) spoke to the press and railed against Biden. "This Administration continues to prioritize their radical policy agenda over the economic, energy and national security needs of our country, and it is absolutely infuriating," said the Senator. "West Virginians are under increasing stress as we continue to recover from a once in a generation pandemic, pay the bills amid record inflation, and face the largest land war in Europe since World War II." As you might have read, assuming he decides to continue his political career, Manchin will face an electorate next year that went for Donald Trump by more than 40 points. His performative outrage just might have something to do with that.
Biden, for his part, may need his veto pen again sometime in the next couple of years, but he might not. Certainly, he's no threat to the veto kings among presidents, namely Franklin D. Roosevelt (635 vetoes), Grover Cleveland (584), Harry S. Truman (250) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (170). Not only are those the only four presidents to get into triple figures, those four men account for nearly two-thirds of all the presidential vetoes in U.S. history (1,639 of 2,584, or a bit more than 63%).
How could those presidents crank out 20+ vetoes per year, when Joe Biden might not make it to 1 veto per year? Cleveland was a little bit of a special case, as he was an old-school, small-government conservative who doubted most of the powers that other presidents had discovered in the Constitution, and who probably should have been born a century earlier than he was. He waged war so aggressively against the Congress that his opponents wrote a children's song: "A fat man once sat in a President's chair, singing Ve-to, Ve-to, With never a thought of trouble or care, singing Ve-to, Ve-to." People were kind of mean back then.
Beyond that, however, the prevalence of vetoes in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries is largely explained by two things. First of all, in both of those timeframes, each party had a conservative wing and a liberal wing, such that it was possible for bills to get through Congress based on alliances that did not necessarily see eye-to-eye with the president. Today, partisanship and party fealty are much stronger. Second, the filibuster was used fairly rarely in those eras, and even then it could be overcome by forcing the filibusterer to read the phone book until he or she was exhausted. So, it was possible for legislation to get through the Senate with a razor-thin margin. That's not generally the case today.
What it really boils down to, even if Americans don't admit it, and don't take steps to make it more formal, is that the country has developed something of an ad hoc parliamentary system, where the executive and the legislature are usually in lockstep. Indeed, Cleveland once vetoed more bills in a single month (39) than all the presidents combined have vetoed in the 21st century (38). (Z)