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Biden has vetoed his first bill. Here's how that compares to other presidents

President Biden speaks to reporters at the White House on Feb. 24, 2023.
Devin Speak
/
NPR
President Biden speaks to reporters at the White House on Feb. 24, 2023.

More than two years into his term, President Biden has used his veto powers for the first time. Biden has sent a bill back to Congress that the White House said would have been bad for retirees.

It's something that could happen a bit more often now that Republicans control the House of Representatives, although it's more likely to be a trickle of vetoes than a flood.

In this case, the veto blocks a measure that was aimed at reversing a Biden administration rule for pension managers. The rule allows them to make investment decisions taking into consideration environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) factors.

"Retirement plan fiduciaries should be able to consider any factor that maximizes financial returns for retirees across the country. That's not controversial — that's common sense," Biden said in his veto message.

The rule will now stand, as there's unlikely to be enough votes in Congress to overturn Biden's veto.

Republicans and Democrats have been fighting about ESG for a while

Major investment firms have been considering ESG factors for some time, responding to calls from clients who want to make socially responsible investments and who consider investing in the fossil fuel industry, for instance, to be risky over the long term.

Republicans have criticized it as "woke" investing. The Trump administration tried to stop pension managers from using ESG criteria, passing a rule to ban major retirement funds from investing in this way.

But that was reversed after Biden took office through this new Labor Department rule.

"That's what exercised Republicans to try to go after it," said Sarah Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University.

"There's a little bit of an almost sort of a 'tit-for-tat' going on here," she said.

Two Democratic senators from red states helped move the fight along

When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in January, they used a processthat makes it easy for Congress to weigh in on regulations that haven't gone into effect yet.

Then the measure went to the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats who by and large support allowing large pension funds to use ESG investment criteria.

But two Democratic senators voted with Republicans on the issue: Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Jon Tester, D-Mont. They are both up for re-election in 2024 in red states with economies that lean heavily on fossil fuels.

"There really wasn't any stopping the Republican minority in the Senate here, so long as they attracted those two Democratic votes to join them to propel this bill to Biden for a signature or a veto," Binder explained.

There aren't a ton of Republican-backed bills like this one that can get a fast-track to Biden's desk, though there could be other new regulations that they could try to stop.

Congress isn't expected to pass a lot of legislation in the next two years because of split-party control.

While Biden often wields the threat of vetoes in his speeches, he's generally talking about proposals that are highly unlikely to get to his desk, like repealing Social Security and Medicare or a national ban on abortion.

How Biden's veto pace compares to past presidents

* Presidents Carter, H.W. Bush and Trump were one-term presidents; others served two terms.
/ https://www.senate.gov/legislative/vetoes/vetoCounts.htm
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https://www.senate.gov/legislative/vetoes/vetoCounts.htm
* Presidents Carter, H.W. Bush and Trump were one-term presidents; others served two terms.

In recent administrations, there's been a significant drop in the number of vetoes. Former President Jimmy Carter vetoed 31 bills in just four years. But the three most recent presidents all topped out at a dozen vetoes or less.

Former Presidents Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush each vetoed a bill in their first year in office, as did former President Barack Obama.

But former Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump didn't face a veto decision until after their first midterm election. Former President George W. Bush didn't face a veto until his second term, an unusual case because Congress rallied behind him after the 9/11 attacks.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.