Once a president has already decided that they are going to sign legislation, why not do it immediately?

For example, on Wednesday, March 10, the House of Representatives voted to pass the American Rescue Plan; which already passed in the Senate. This sends the bill to President Biden to sign into law. The White House has said that Biden plans to sign the bill into law on Friday (March 12).

Is there any reason that Biden does not sign the bill into law immediately; within hours after it passed in the House? Especially given that Biden's messaging around the stimulus / Covid relief has always been that there is no time to waste; and that it is urgent people people need the relief right now. So why delay the signing for 2 days? If Biden has already announced that he is going to sign it; why not just do it? Even if there are logistics issues with wanting the press and/or other VIPs to be present at the signing; could that not be arranged in less than a day?

I am using the American Rescue Plan as an example; but I mean to ask about legislation in general. Once a president has already decided that they are going to sign legislation, why not do it immediately?

  • 3
    Interestingly enough; apparently it was signed today; a day earlier than had been announced when I asked the question.
    – GendoIkari
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 19:40

3 Answers 3


The buck stops with the President. Once the President signs a law is becomes law and he can't take that back.

Major legislation runs hundreds of pages and it is commonplace for there to be myriad change at the last minute in Congressional negotiations to secure the joint approval of a Senate amended version of a House bill, or visa versa.

It would hardly be unprecedented for Congressional negotiators at the last minute and with little fanfare to slip in some change to a bill that could make it toxic to the President's political goals, and without the awareness of many people who voted in favor of the bill, that could become politically costly once known.

For example, the Affordable Care Act (i.e. Obamacare) had several very serious drafting errors (whether someone intended this, or it was unintended will never be known for sure) that have resulted in federal court litigation over the law and produced some results that were almost surely not intended by the drafters.

Also, politicians deeply need public recognition to aid in their re-election campaigns, and one of the common ways that a President can address that need of members of Congress and other political players in legislative struggles, is to invite the people who made it happen to a signing ceremony, which is a mini-celebration of the completion of an important project achieving a shared goal.

Both the review of legislation for unexpected flaws or poison pills that might prompt an unanticipated veto, and organizing a signing ceremony, takes a few days. Reviewing a long bill with a fine tooth comb and a fresh set of highly skilled eyes takes time. Getting dozens of very powerful people coordinated for any scheduled event isn't trivial.

This brief delay also gives agencies charged with implementing a new law that is expected to be signed a little time to prepare any actions that will be necessary to do so immediately when it is signed, such as drafting temporary orders from department heads and bureau chiefs about how the civil servants underneath them are impacted by the law and what they are obligated to do differently now until more formal permanent regulations and systems can be put into place.

So, bills are rarely signed immediately, unless it is a dire emergency. Signing a bill two days after it is enacted is actually sooner than usual.

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    This. The last change to the bill was made on March, 6th. President Biden signed it on March, 11th. The bill is almost 600 pages long. That means, the President and/or his team had to study over 100 pages of highly dense, graduate-level legal text per day, fully understand every single detail of it, understand every possible interaction of every regulation in it with each other as well as every other existing federal law and regulation, the Constitution, state laws, international treaties, etc. Personally, I consider 5 days for 600 pages quite fast! Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 9:23
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    Legislation that requires agencies to make big changes to their procedures usually doesn't take effect immediately, they often have a start date in the future. E.g. the American Rescue Plan doesn't expect to be sending out new checks until the end of the month. The ACA phased in its changes over years. So that's hardly a reason for delaying signing for a few days.
    – Barmar
    Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 14:22
  • Lots of comments deleted. This answer has nothing to do with COVID-19 vaccination. Please keep your comments relevant to the answer.
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 21:14
  • @Barmar When legislators are considerate, that is true. But if you are an affected senior administrator in an agency, you don't know that until you take a day or two to review the final bill.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 22:12
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    Not sure it's worth mentioning, but Obama actually made a campaign promise that he'd wait 48hrs before signing legislation so there was a chance to review it for anything that might've been slipped in. (in practice, though, it didn't always happen, especially for things like the budget to end the 2013 government shutdown)
    – Joe
    Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 22:33

Odd though it may seem from the outside, the President — if he is doing his job correctly — is actually quite busy. Biden in particular is still within his first 100 days (a benchmark test for every president), and because the Trump administration interfered with transition process and demonstrated a marked lack of concern for governance (if not outright sabotage) during the last few months of its tenure, Biden is saddled with an extra burden binging the Executive branch and various agencies back up to a functional level. I also have the sense that Biden is deliberately accentuating the procedural aspects of the Office in order to drive home the impression that regular, orderly, systematic governance is back in its proper place. Though he obviously wants the opportunity to have some fanfare over the bill, he doesn't want to make it about him or his agenda, but instead demonstrate government doing what it ought to for the American people.

  • Is your first line meant to be sarcastic? How can it seem odd that the president is busy?
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 16:19
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    @gerrit: Not really... out people only see the 'Pomp and Circumstances' side of the presidency — state dinners, public speeches, ceremonial events, bill signing — and have no idea how much behind-the-scenes grunt-work it involves. I have a suspicion Trump fell into that trap, suddenly finding himself confronted with actual work when he thought he was getting a jet-setter job. Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 17:46
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    @gerrit Trump's presidency had a fairly constant stream of "the President spends half his day watching TV and sleeping in, and hates anything more than a sentence long in his debriefing reports, etc. etc." reports coming out of it. And going back long before then it's been a fairly common, if plainly asinine, political attack vector to claim that the current President is just lounging around doing nothing, but if you elect our candidate he'll actually do stuff. Commented Mar 13, 2021 at 5:06
  • @gerrit Also, Biden's not let himself attract much public attention most days, so it would be easy to get the impression that's due to inactivity, whereas if anything the real explanation is that his busyness keeps him from the public gaze.
    – J.G.
    Commented Mar 13, 2021 at 15:57
  • @J.G. "I don't see him working, so he must be idling" sounds quite naïve. I don't see my neighbour working either. But maybe some people think that way…
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 13, 2021 at 17:52

Not necessarily with this particular bill but in a general sense, bill signing sometimes gets delayed to control news coverage. Unpopular bills can get delayed until the end of a Friday, too late to make that evening's news. Viewership is lower on the weekends and by Monday it will be old news, so this can help a bill fly under the radar a bit. Bills will sometimes be delayed until the day before a major holiday for the same reason (people are too preoccupied on Christmas to pay attention to what's happening).

On the flip side, a popular bill can be delayed to ensure that it gets maximum news coverage. Presidents can wait to sign it on a particular day when little else is happening and the bill can be the top story of the day.

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