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How does Congress Override a Presidential Veto?

Tricia Christensen
Updated: May 17, 2024

When the president of the United States (POTUS) uses a presidential veto, it doesn't necessarily mean that the bill won't become a law. The US Constitution gives Congress a means to sign a bill into law after a presidential veto has occurred. In order to overturn a presidential veto, both houses in Congress must vote to approve the bill by a two-thirds majority. In cases where a majority votes does not occur, bipartisanship — the act of finding common ground via compromise — can help override the veto by gaining a majority vote. Other alternatives include declaring a law as unconstitutional or ruling against same party affiliation.

Why Vetoes Occur

One of the deep concerns of the founders of the US was that any one branch of the government would seize power and take the country in any direction desired. This is why the presidential veto, and the ability to overturn it, exists. The presidential veto in the US is a means by which the POTUS can reject a proposed bill that has received a majority vote in both houses of the legislative branch of the government, the US House of Representatives and the US Senate.

When the president exercises his or her right to reject the bill and use the presidential veto, the bill is returned to the House or Senate, wherever the bill first started, with remarks from the president on why the bill is being rejected. Often, when the bill originates from a majority congress that is in opposition to the POTUS’ political party, vetoes are a means of defeating bills that the president feels are in opposition to his or her political aims as head of a political party.

Majority Vote and Bipartisanship

While the House of Representatives and the US Senate work together for the good of the country, they do not always agree with one another. In the case of a veto from the president, an agreement is necessary to overturn it. The House and Senate must have a majority vote of two-thirds from both parties to override the president's decision.

Realistically, it is difficult to overturn a presidential veto because there is seldom a two-thirds majority of a political party in both congressional houses. Though occasionally members of the minority party will vote with the majority party, this still may not amount to enough votes to represent a two-thirds majority. On the other hand, when the president appears to be acting against the interest of most members of Congress, regardless of party, bipartisanship to overturn a veto can occur to severely limit presidential powers.

Alternative Options

Another alternative besides a majority vote may occur when Congress passes a law that is declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. This action by the Supreme Court may ultimately influence whether or not Congress will attempt to overturn a veto; if the Supreme Court appears to be in agreement with the president’s veto, the time it takes to try to create a law after veto has occurred may not be worth the effort for Congress. For example, when the majority of Justices of the Supreme Court belong to the same political party as the president, they may do all they can to uphold the veto, making it nearly impossible for Congress to win a majority vote.

On the other hand, when concern exists in both the Supreme Court and Congress that the president is abusing his or her authority through vetoing, the Supreme Court may rule against party affiliation, no matter how conservative or liberal their politics are. This may be done to uphold the right of Congress to pass laws that conform to the US Constitution and are perceived as being in the best interest of the country.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon1000880 — On Jan 18, 2019

Simple Answer: Congress can override a presidential veto by passing the bill with a 2/3 vote in both houses of Congress.

By anon999920 — On Apr 15, 2018

Crispety - actually the Supreme Court is the one court not limited by precedent, although they often choose to rely on precedent. Just look at Civil Rights actions for a classic example.

Unfortunately, the more recent Court does not even consider itself limited by the wording of the Constitution or Amendments nor original intent.

Instead, the modern court guidelines are essentially "whatever is in the spirit of what we think the majority of people currently want". Bypassing all that technical BS about amendment processes and the huge delays getting all the necessary states to ratify.

In part, this is a side effect of problems with amendments that took decades to pass and vaguely written Constitutional language that left it truly unclear if that length of time was allowed or if it could lead to a miscarriage of the people's wishes when some states said they would like to retract ancient ratifications.

Truthfully 200+ years later the Constitution is technically obsolete and the weight of additional past laws and precedent make it even more unmanageable. But the courage to rewrite US Democracy fails under the weight of tradition separated from consequence. Plus the valid the fear that without a looming invasion Americans would not be able to agree on more than a skeletal Constitution, with all the expected results of a complex society losing almost all regulation and law.

By anon999918 — On Apr 15, 2018

The Supreme Court never gets directly involved in veto situations.

The Supreme Court waits for a test case after the law goes into effect...only then (usually months or years later) does the court declare laws unconstitutional.

What you meant was that individual Justices may offer an opinion that the law will eventually be declared UnConstitutional. Occasionally this has an effect on veto override attempts. But usually NOT -- due to the powerful political concerns necessary to get that extreme degree of Congressional unity (2/3 to override veto).

More likely Supreme Court comments will cause Congress to change some wording or add some exception clauses in an attempt to bypass issues which a justice has noted. Much more likely to get minor changes than POTUS veto.

Its very seldom that a majority of Justices will public express concern. So in fact without overall Court weighing in on Acts future -- Congress usually assumes that the Court is no more unified in its opinions than Congress itself. Press ahead to test that law out.

By anon991869 — On Jul 24, 2015

If the president vetoes a House bill (halt using Federal funds for sanctioned cities) can the House pull in the reins on that bill, regardless of the veto since the bill involves spending tax payer money?

By anon989121 — On Feb 20, 2015

I feel that we will loose our country, as President Lincoln stated.

It will not come from the outside, but from within.

By anon139408 — On Jan 04, 2011

i have an exam tomorrow and one of the questions is how does a congressional override limit the powers of the president.

By oasis11 — On Sep 17, 2010

SurfNturf-I can answer that for you. FDR exercised a whopping 372 Presidential vetoes. By contrast, President George W. Bush vetoed no bills his first term, but vetoed a total of 10 bills in his second term.

By surfNturf — On Sep 17, 2010

Crispety-I remember that. You know what I want to know, which President exercised the most Presidential vetoes?

By Crispety — On Sep 17, 2010

SauteePan-Anon67374- That is true, but the Supreme Court also uses prior case law in its rulings, so there has to be a precedent for their ruling.

I do want to say that I remember that Nancy Regan was very vocal with respect to stem cell research. She felt that her husband, President Regan who was suffering from Alzheimer’s and later died from the disease could bring attention to the cause of stem cell research.

On March 9, 2010 President Obama passed a law legalizing stem cell research and reversing the ban President Bush had placed through his use of Presidential vetos.

By SauteePan — On Sep 17, 2010

Cafe41-I know that the use of the Presidential veto is an example of the ban on stem cell research by President George W. Bush.

When the bill came up in 2005, which was referred to as the Stem Cell Research Act, George W. Bush vetoed the bill. The reason for the veto was based on ethical and moral issues that arose from the destruction of human embryos for scientific research. President George W. Bush considered these embryonic cells human life that should be preserved.

The measure came up again in 2007, and again he vetoed the bill. Those in favor of stem cell research feel that potential advances in medicine are too great and must be investigated.

Many scientists feel that potential cures for diseases like diabetes, cancer and other debilitating and terminal diseases can be found with this form of research.

By cafe41 — On Sep 17, 2010

In order for congress to override presidential vetoes there has to be two thirds vote by congress.

This means that two thirds of congress must vote against the President. This is what margin is required to override a presidential veto.

By anon67374 — On Feb 24, 2010

The Supreme Court can't uphold a veto. If Congress overrides a presidential veto, then the legislation is law. If the law is challenged in court, goes through the judicial system and is accepted to be heard at the Supreme Court, then the overridden law might be overturned by the court. That process might take a decade.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia...
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