If a bill receives a veto-proof vote in Congress, why does it go to the President to sign or veto, only to go back to Congress in the case of a veto, instead of immediately becoming law? The differences between the two systems, as well as I can ascertain, are that the current system:

  • imposes some delay;
  • gives Congress another chance to rethink the bill if the President vetoes it;
  • allows the President to register a protest veto.

However, these properties don't seem significant enough to intentionally choose the current system over the other. The one reason I can think of is that the current system is a "default": there must be an extra provision to special-case the situation where a bill receives a veto-proof vote and nobody bothered to add it. Is that the case or am I missing something?

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    I assume your question is why the Constitution is written this way, you aren't just looking for a recital of the relevant section in the Constitution to show this is the way it is. Dec 20, 2018 at 21:05
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    The US government is very procedural, literal, and serious. Politicians are fairly good at sticking to the established processes. Also, these processes do serve purposes. All three of the points made in the question are actually significant to government. To top that off, a party super-majority does not equal a super majority of votes. All things to consider here.
    – David S
    Dec 20, 2018 at 21:13
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    @IllusiveBrian Yes I am asking for the logic behind the way things are. Dec 21, 2018 at 3:30

3 Answers 3


Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution specifically states that all bills are sent to the President and that vetoed bills must be returned to Congress for reconsideration:


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


The rejection of the bill by the President is intended to cause the members of Congress to reconsider their support. Even if a bill initially passes with a veto-proof majority, once the President "return[s] it, with his objections", those objections may convince members of Congress to change their vote (in which case the veto would not be overruled after all), or they may want to make changes to satisfy these objections (in which case the President can sign the revised compromise bill).

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    You could also note that a veto or threat of a veto can cause the bill to be reworked and a new version passed that removes the need for the veto. I think this happened at least once during the second Bush presidency.
    – Joe W
    Dec 20, 2018 at 21:59
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    You may also want to add that the US takes the Presentment Clause very seriously. Multiple "creative" legislative processes (the Presidential line-item veto, the legislative veto, etc.) have fallen to it. A bill purporting to be automatically veto-proof would not get very far.
    – Kevin
    Dec 21, 2018 at 0:40
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    Is there some statistics about it available? For example, what is the rate of the US President vetoing bills approved by Congress and what is the rate of Congress overriding the veto of the President? This would give a hint how often the mentioned route (members of Congress changing their vote or Congress making changes to the bill) is actually taken. Dec 21, 2018 at 9:37
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    I would add an even more basic reason. The constitution was written that way and this situation comes up so rarely, and does so minor harm when it does, that there has never been a reason to change it.
    – dsollen
    Dec 21, 2018 at 21:06
  • "The rejection of the bill by the President is intended...": this answer would benefit from some support for that statement, though I would be surprised if one could find contemporaneous consideration of this question.
    – phoog
    Oct 6, 2019 at 16:39

imposes some delay

This also plays a role. The President may hold the bill for up to ten days, not counting Sundays, before vetoing it. During that period, if Congress "by their Adjournment prevent [the bill's] return", then the bill dies and Congress has to start the whole legislative process over again. This is called a pocket veto (because the President "puts the bill in his pocket and forgets about it").

There is some controversy around what exactly counts as an adjournment for the purposes of this clause. In general, the law as it currently stands is:

  • When Congress adjourns sine die at the end of the legislative session, all pending legislation dies, including legislation awaiting a Presidential signature. Notionally, the Congress which passed the legislation no longer exists (its composition will have changed as a result of the election).
  • Otherwise, a brief adjournment is not sufficient to "prevent" the President from returning the bill within the time period, but a lengthy adjournment might be.
  • Congress may designate agents to receive the bill over an adjournment, which prevents the pocket veto.
  • Presidents have had a tendency to push the envelope with regards to all of the above (see for example President George W. Bush's disputed pocket veto of a defense bill), but the issue is rarely litigated because each branch of government fears setting a precedent in favor of the other (in this case, it was resolved by Congress saying it was a "regular" veto and then passing a new bill anyway).

The original poster's suggestion number 2 covers the best reasons: "Congress [gets] another chance to rethink the bill if the President vetoes it".

As originally designed, every politician who votes on or signs off on a bill has the following responsibilities:

  • Vote no if, in the politician's opinion, the bill is unconstitutional.
  • Vote no if, in the politician's opinion, the bill does not tend to "uphold" the constitution.
  • Vote no if, in the politician's opinion, the bill is a bad idea for the country.
  • Vote no if, in the politician's opinion, the bill is not in the interests of the people the politician represents.

A presidential veto is likely to point out a problem with a bill. The problem might be a constitutional one, or even a foreign policy one. It is likely that some of the legislators who voted for the bill did not seriously consider the issue that caused the president to veto the bill.

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