Fastest Veto in History?

It was reported yesterday that President-elect Obama told a closed-door meeting of senators that he would veto any resolution to restrict the second TARP tranch of $350 billion. Because Congress has fifteen days from Monday to pass the resolution and the president has 10 days to veto it, any such showdown would occur no later than the president’s first two weeks in office. But because of the urgency involved, it could come as early as inauguration day.

That got me, the author of a recent paper on the history of the veto, wondering whether it would be the earliest veto in any president’s first term. As I suspected even before cracking the books, the current record holder is Gerald Ford who vetoed legislstion to “reclassify positions of deputy marshals” on day 4 of his adminstration. But, as they would say in track and field, that record is “wind-aided.” Similarly, Lyndon Johnson vetoed amendments to a tariff act on day 37. Among first term elected presidents, the mark is day 36 by U.S. Grant. This one also deserves an asterick because it was a pocket veto after one of the short March legislative sessions that were held prior to the constitutional amendment moving inauguration from March to January.

So I declare that the modern record is held by Obama’s idol FDR who vetoed amendments to the Federal Farm Loan Act after just 103 days. So Obama would absolutely smash this mark unless one side blinks (which alas I predict will be the case).

Here is how all the other presidents since 1900 stack up. The topics of some of the vetoed legislation are downright quaint.

President Entered Office First Veto Day in Office Topic
Bush II 1/20/2001 7/19/2006 2007 Restrictions on Stem Cell Funding
Clinton 1/20/1993 6/7/1993 139 FY 1995 Supplemental
Bush I 1/20/1989 7/1/1989 163 Export of technology for FS-X aircraft
Reagan 1/20/1981 11/23/1981 308 Continuing appropriation for FY 1982
Carter 1/20/1977 11/5/1977 290 Authorization for Energy Research Development Admin
Ford 8/9/1974 8/12/1974 4 Reclassify positions of deputy Marshals
Nixon 1/20/1969 1/26/1970 372 Labor/HEW Appropriations
Johnson 11/24/1963 12/30/1963 37 Amend Tariff Act of 1930
Kennedy 1/20/1961 5/26/1961 127 Relief of William Joseph Vincent
Eisenhower 1/20/1953 6/15/1953 147 Relief of Helmuth Wolf Gruhl
Truman 4/12/1945 7/17/1945 97 Amend Selective Training and Service Act
F. Roosevelt 3/4/1933 6/15/1933 104 Amend Federal Farm Loan Act
Hoover 3/4/1929 4/21/1930 414 Coin 50-cent pieces commemorating Gadsden Purchase
Coolidge 8/2/1923 5/3/1924 276 Omnibus pension bill
Harding 3/4/1921 12/20/1921 292 Codify, Amend, and Revise Laws related to Judiciary
Wilson 3/4/1913 10/22/1913 233 Reinstate Adolph Unger at West Point
Taft 3/4/1909 3/28/1910 390 Amend military record of Aaron Cornish
T. Roosevelt 9/14/1901 3/11/1902 179 Remove Desertion charge from John Glass
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4 thoughts on “Fastest Veto in History?

  1. Nolan McCarty


    Yes, that 50-cent piece would now be worth a pretty penny. Thanks for the link to your post. I actually argue the exact opposite in the piece I linked to above. The thing that always struck me about the Federalist Papers and Madison’s Notes is that the constitution writers were aware of the policy implications of the veto (through observations of royal governors and some state governors) yet never made an explicit effort to limit the scope of the veto.

  2. MSS

    Wouldn’t you love to have a 50-cent piece commemorating the Gadsden Purchase?

    What struck me when reading the topics was how “unimportant” most of the earlier bills were, including what appear to be private-member bills (as Nolan mentions here in the comments). Indeed, that sort of veto presumably was what the instrument was originally intended for. (Or so I have argued in blog space.)

  3. Nolan McCarty

    Of course, several of the 20th Century first vetoes were private bills (reinstate Adolph Unger at West Point, relief of Helmuth Wolf Gruhl, etc) as was Grant’s March term veto (relief of Blanton Duncan). But there were no other March Term vetoes. The March term was used almost exclusively to confirm executive appointments and not much legislation was passed. Most of the first vetoes for 19th Century presidents came during the regular November term.

  4. David Lewis

    This is a really interesting post but I’d be curious to know if there were any vetoes of private bills that came more quickly. My recollection is that there was a continuous stream of these after the Civil War and presidents would veto them pretty frequently.

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