The US senate has passed (99 to 0) an extension of the sanctions against Iran. President Obama could veto the bill before it becomes law. The veto can be overridden.

What then?

  • What tools does the President have against overriding a veto or prevent it ?
  • What about opponents? Can they pass the bill anyway?

The votes in the Senate were 99 to 0 and the votes in the House were 419 to 1.

  • 7
    The president doesn't have any official powers against overriding a veto, this is the whole point of checks and balances. Dec 2, 2016 at 14:57

3 Answers 3


In short, President Obama doesn't have any tools against a congressional override.

If a bill is passed with such an overwhelming number of votes, 99:0 in the Senate and 419:1 in the House of Representatives, it is almost impossible for any president to stop the bill from becoming law.

It takes two thirds of votes in both houses to override President's veto. Even if President Obama vetoes it, it will be useless as the numbers in both houses exceed the requirement.

If the Congress overrides the veto by a two-thirds majority in each house, it becomes law without the President's signature.

[Source: Wikipedia article on Veto]

  • 11
    Not technically useless, as a veto forces Congress to vote again on the matter. It is likely that Congress will vote the same way again, but nobody knows that for sure until they actually vote again. Dec 2, 2016 at 14:27
  • Depending on the timing on this he may have the option of a pocket veto. Dec 2, 2016 at 15:40
  • @MichaelMcGriff Valid point. But you need to note that the bill itself is not new to the Senate and House of Representatives and they have voted on this bill for many years. Well, of course, you can never know.
    – Rathony
    Dec 2, 2016 at 15:41
  • @DeplorableNumber9035768 Please read how pocket veto works. It's not an option readily available always.
    – Rathony
    Dec 2, 2016 at 15:42
  • @Rathony - I would suspect that they will continue in session like they have done previously rather than adjourning for the holiday break(even though basically no one will be there) but that is not set yet. Dec 2, 2016 at 15:44

Not disagreeing with the answers, but the situation described in the question is actually not quite true.

The bill the Senate passed does not impose sanctions on Iran. The situation is that there was an existing law that allowed the POTUS to impose sanctions on Iran if he wants to. It was set to expire at the end of this year. Congress has just extended that law.

Supporters of the extension say keeping the law on the books would send a signal to Iran that the United States can quickly re-instate the sanctions if the Islamic Republic violates the nuclear pact.

No new sanctions were imposed, and the POTUS is not required to do anything new. The current administration position on this basically seems to be that the bill is unnecessary, but that would hardly merit a veto.

  • That is what I thought as well, but then I saw this article from CNN. Did I misread it? Or maybe the article is misrepresenting the facts? Dec 2, 2016 at 23:33
  • @KodosJohnson - Dunno. Can you find a source article that I can load into a webbrowser without making my whole browser/PC go unresponsive? I tried following your CNN link, only to be reminded why I avoid going to the CNN website anymore.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 2, 2016 at 23:36
  • Well... here is a quote from the first paragraph: "Senators overwhelmingly approved Thursday a 10-year extension of tough economic sanctions against Iran they believe is needed...". The wording of the sentence suggests the sanctions themselves are being extended, not just the predident's power to impose them. Dec 2, 2016 at 23:37
  • Although the New York Times is more in line with your answer - nytimes.com/2016/12/01/us/politics/… Dec 2, 2016 at 23:38
  • @KodosJohnson - I'd guess whoever wrote that article was slightly confused (being charitable here). Both NPR and Politico are reporting it as an extension to the law allowing sanctions to be imposed, and went into that in gory detail. Yet another reason to avoid CNN's website I guess.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 2, 2016 at 23:39

The president has some tools, but they all come with downsides and of course aren't guaranteed to work:

  1. Escalate the issue to Supreme Court, hoping that the bill is struck down on constitutional grounds (either content, or more likely jurisdiction).

    This could be administration originating the suit, or simply joining a suit of someone else harmed by the bill.

  2. Issue an executive order canceling at least some effects of the bill

    Of course, in December 2016, that would be purely symbolic and likely further poison the popular opinion against him. Iran, and nuclear deal, weren't very popular in US.

  • I think this answer is wrong. (1) The President would not have standing to bring a legal case in any reasonable scenario (certainly not this one), so all that would happen is that the case would get tossed out fast. Not to mention it brings a terrible precedent. (2) Executive action can not override legislation. Dec 2, 2016 at 20:44
  • @DavidGrinberg: I've wondered what would happen if a president were to write a blanket pardon for everybody who ignores law X during his term of office.
    – Joshua
    Dec 2, 2016 at 21:04
  • @Joshua Blanket pardons are not within the power of the presidency, it has to be specific. This is very similar to the problem that Terry McAuliffe (governor of Virgina) ran into. Check out this Google result. Its also one of the reasons why Obama is only pardoning non-violent drug offenders a few hundred at a time. Dec 2, 2016 at 21:08
  • @DavidGrinberg - (1) Which is why I BOTH indicated they aren't guaranteed to work {no standing} OR, that he can get someone else with standing - like someone affected by sanctions - to bring suit. (2) It can undermine legislation. E.g. no enforcement of sanctions.
    – user4012
    Dec 2, 2016 at 21:39
  • 1
    @DavidGrinberg: As I understand it, the equivalent of a blanket pardon was issued for Vietnam war draft dodgers.
    – Joshua
    Dec 3, 2016 at 2:17

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