Bush's Record: One Veto, Many No's

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OF all the powers of the presidency, the veto is among the most potent.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt rejected or failed to sign 635 bills during his 12 years in office, using his veto power to keep Congress — run by his fellow Democrats — subservient. Harry S. Truman vetoed 250 bills; Dwight D. Eisenhower, 181. Bill Clinton used one of 37 vetoes to reject a law banning a particular type of abortion.

But until last week, when President Bush vetoed a bill to expand federally supported embryonic stem cell research, the incumbent president — a man who has taken an especially aggressive approach to expanding executive authority — left the veto power untouched.

“President Bush has vetoed things without vetoing them,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history at Boston University. “He’s kind of found alternative ways in which he can basically say no to Congress without publicly saying no, or publicly having the confrontation.”

That is not to say there have been no confrontations. The threat of a veto can be just as powerful as a veto itself, and the Bush administration says it has issued 141 such threats since taking office. Some involved disputes over federal spending, an area where Mr. Bush has used veto threats to force compromise with fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill.

The veto — Latin for “I forbid” — was not always such an expansive tool of presidential power. Early presidents used it sparingly, only when they believed Congress had violated the Constitution.

George Washington issued two vetoes; John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, none. When James Monroe exercised his first and only veto, rejecting a bill imposing tolls on the Cumberland Road because he believed a constitutional amendment was required, he issued a 25,000-word explanation along with it.

That narrow philosophy of the role of the veto changed with Andrew Jackson. Jackson famously exercised his veto to reject the renewal of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, turning the veto from a constitutional message into a political one.

“Rather than just arguing that the bank is unconstitutional, Jackson is arguing that the bank is wrong,” said Brian Balogh, a historian at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. “This is a real change in the assertion of presidential power.”

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