Obama's State of the Union veto threats: most ever?

President Barack Obama issued several not-so-thinly veiled veto threats to the new Republican-led Congress in his 2015 State of the Union. To CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, it sounded like the most ever. (AP photo)
President Barack Obama issued several not-so-thinly veiled veto threats to the new Republican-led Congress in his 2015 State of the Union. To CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, it sounded like the most ever. (AP photo)

President Barack Obama issued several not-so-thinly veiled veto threats to the new Republican-led Congress in his 2015 State of the Union.

To CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, it sounded like the most ever.

"I don’t know about you," Blitzer told co-anchor Jake Tapper during the post-SOTU haze, "I don’t remember a State of the Union address where I heard a president issue so many veto threats to the Republican majority, to the opposite party in the United States Congress."

Because we love presidential trivia, and because we can, we looked into Blitzer’s point. Were other presidents so blunt about wielding their executive power?

We reviewed the text of State of the Union addresses going back to Franklin D. Roosevelt from the University of California Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project to find out. We decided not to fact-check Blitzer because he prefaced his comments with "I don’t remember …"

In his 2015 address, which PolitiFact annotated, Obama implored GOP lawmakers not to try undo his major presidential accomplishments:

We can't slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns. We can't put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street or refighting past battles on immigration when we've got to fix a broken system.

And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, I will veto it. It will have earned my veto.

Obama also warned GOP lawmakers against interfering in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran. But new sanctions passed by this Congress at this moment in time will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails, alienating America from its allies, making it harder to maintain sanctions and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn't make sense.

That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.

By our count, that’s four promised vetoes of bills that roll back or repeal Obama’s health care law, Dodd-Frank financial oversight legislation passed in 2009, undermine Obama’s executive orders on immigration, and enforce new sanctions against Iran (which he also warned specifically against in 2014).

That’s an historic high, best we can tell.

Our analysis supports Blitzer’s hunch that no president since at least World War II has made as many specific veto threats in the State of the Union as Obama did Jan. 20, 2015.

Most veto threats of previous presidents were about wasteful spending in the budget.

In fact, President George W. Bush was the only president in recent history who threatened more than one veto. His two warnings came in 2008, when he was dealing with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

We condensed their threats into this simple chart. Not enough context for you? We’ve linked to each speech.




  What did he say?



Bills (described above) that undo his reforms on immigration, banking oversight and immigration, as well as a new Iran sanctions bill.



On negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program, "The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it."



"And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren't larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it. I will veto it."



"Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don't. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will."



"Members of Congress should know, if any bill raises taxes reaches my desk, I will veto it."


"If you send me an appropriations bill that does not cut the number and cost of earmarks in half, I'll send it back to you with my veto."



"Any attempt to limit the choices of our seniors or to take away their prescription drug coverage under Medicare will meet my veto."



"I know the proposal to liberalize the ability of employers to take money out of pension funds for other purposes would raise money for the Treasury, but I believe it is false economy. I vetoed that proposal last year, and I would have to do so again."



"If you send me legislation that does not guarantee every American private health insurance that can never be taken away, you will force me to take this pen, veto the legislation, and we'll come right back here and start all over again."



"I can assure you, the bipartisan leadership of Congress, of my help in fighting off any attempt to bust our budget agreement. And this includes the swift and certain use of the veto power."



On an arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union, "I must tell you in this Congress I will veto any effort that undercuts our national security and our negotiating leverage."



"I will not hesitate to veto any new spending programs adopted by the Congress."

As an aside, most presidents used their State of the Unions not to threaten a veto, but to request the power of the line-item veto. This authority would allow the president to strike elements of multi-pronged legislation without killing the whole thing. Presidents including Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton and Obama have all asked for this at some point.

"Give me the same thing 43 governors have, the line-item veto, and let me help you control spending," George H. W. Bush said in 1992.

Clinton was the only one who asked for and received line-item veto authority, but the Supreme Court in 1998 struck it down as unconstitutional. This did not stop George W. Bush  or Obama from continuing to ask for it, however, and the U.S. House of Representatives voted in 2012 to give Obama this power. The House bill, which would have required Congress to vote on each proposed line-item veto, was ignored by the Senate.

So from a first glance, Blitzer’s hunch looks right. Obama’s 2015 State of the Union included more specific veto threats than any address since World War II.