Legislator in Chief

The president plays a dominant role in the legislative process. He proposes legislation, works closely with Congressional leadership on scheduling and strategy, and frequently lobbies members on key votes. When the president is of the same party as the Congressional majority, his legislative agenda is given top priority.

State of the Union Address

The Constitution requires that the president “from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

This annual State of the Union address has developed into the president's most powerful tool to shape the legislative agenda. For most of the nineteenth century, presidents discharged this responsibility with a letter to Congress. Beginning with Woodrow Wilson, however, the president began delivering the State of the Union address in person. It is now given in late January to a packed session of Congress (including the Supreme Court justices and cabinet officials). The nationally televised address allows the president to lay out a comprehensive legislative agenda for the coming session of Congress. Most of the time, the president enjoys a spike in popularity following the speech, and tries to takes advantage of it by quickly introducing his legislative agenda in Congress.

Veto Power

The Constitution vests with the president the power to veto — or reject — any legislation passed by the Congress. This power is a valuable political tool because it allows the president to influence and shape legislation simply by raising the specter of a veto.

Presidents tend to exercise the veto power judiciously. Using it too often can give the appearance of being out of touch with the American people, or behaving like an obstructionist. Franklin Roosevelt vetoed 635 bills during his thirteen years in office, far and away the most of any president. Seven presidents, including Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, didn't veto any legislation at all. As you learned in Chapter 7, the Congress can override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority of both chambers, although this rarely occurs. Less than 5 percent of all vetoes are overridden.

In 1996, Congress gave the president the line-item veto — a special type of veto that allowed the president to strike certain provisions out of a bill while signing the remainder into law. However, the Supreme Court later declared it unconstitutional.

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