Congress can override a presidential veto by passing the bill with a 2/3 vote in both houses of Congress.
Why Does the Government Need a Veto?
The main purpose of the United States Constitution is to limit the power of government. One way the Constitution accomplishes this task is the establishment of three branches of government — and the accompanying system of checks and balances. The Constitution establishes procedures for each branch of government to check the power of the others. Before answering the question, “What does it take to override a presidential veto,” a look at important definitions are necessary.
- Executive Branch – the legally constituted branch of government in charge of carrying out laws.
- Legislative Branch – the legally constituted branch of government in charge of making laws.
- Judicial Branch – the legally constituted branch of government in charge of making sure laws are just and are carried out fairly.
- Veto – a power granted to the head of the executive branch that allows him or her to nullify a law passed by the legislative branch. The president of the United States is the head of the executive branch in the federal government.
- Override – a power granted to the legislative branch that nullifies a presidential veto.
A knowledge of these basic definitions is required for understanding what it takes to override a presidential veto.
What Does it Take to Override a Presidential Veto?
Article 1, Section 6 of the United States Constitution states:
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it.
If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law.
But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively.
If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.
For those of you not skilled in reading 18th-century English, this passage means the following:
- Every bill passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate must be presented to the president before it becomes a law.
- The president has three options: (1) He or she can sign it, which makes it a law; (2) He or she can veto it, meaning it does not become a law; (3) He or she can do nothing, meaning it becomes a law after 10 days, excluding Sundays, as long as Congress is in session. If Congress has adjourned, the bill is vetoed (called a pocket veto).
- Congress can override a veto by voting on the bill again and passing it with a 2/3 majority in both houses of Congess. It then becomes law.
Because getting a 2/3 majority in both houses is extremely difficult, veto overrides are rare.
I hope you understand more behind the purpose of a veto and the process by which all of this works. Please comment below if you have any opinions on how to improve this system.
- Maier, Pauline. The Declaration of Independence & The Constitution of The United States. "The Introduction." New York: Bantam, 1998. Pp. 1-46.
- Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
This post is part of the series: U.S. Constitutional Concepts Explained
- Laws Regarding Overriding the Presidential Veto
- The Three Branches of US Government
- History of Electoral Votes and How They Work