Congress doesn’t need the president’s permission

Congress doesn’t need the president’s permission
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Anyone who is not familiar with the Constitution must think that Congress needs the president’s permission to pass a law. The House and Senate are spinning their wheels over the president’s rejection last week of a bipartisan proposal on immigration that would also provide funding for the government.

While this has given the media a field day and lawmakers a lot of on-camera time, it has done nothing to deal with the plight of the “Dreamers” or to fund the government beyond Friday. 


Knowing how the president views a legislative proposal is important but not essential. Article 1, section 7, clause 2 of the Constitution, also known as the Presentment Clause, clearly states there are two paths for a bill to become a law once it passes the both chambers of Congress. First, the bill will be presented to the president to sign. If he signs it the bill becomes law.


If he doesn’t sign it, “he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated. Once that chamber reconsiders it, if “two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, … to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law.”

The president’s disapproval doesn’t necessarily damn a bill if both Houses can muster two-third majorities.

If the so-called Graham-Durbin compromise has bi-partisan support, the senate majority leader should stand on principle and let the Senate vote instead of saying as he did yesterday that the president hasn’t indicated what he wants. Debate on the floor could lead to amendments and then every member would have to say yea or nay. If the Senate bill does not pass the bill or the House does not, the matter is resolved and citizens will know how their members voted. For the speaker of the house to say that he won’t bring legislation to the floor that the president doesn’t support is a cop out. Pleasing the president isn’t his job nor is it the senate majority leader. Comments like theirs create the impression that they work for the president instead of leading co-equal branches.

If the legislation passes, then it is up to the president to sign or veto it. That is the way that the system was designed to work. Congress should not be in the business of either being subservient to the president on legislation or protecting him from exercising his right to veto.

For too long, an imperial presidency has been tolerated and too many members of Congress spend their time posturing and promoting their own self-interest instead of the nation’s. There could be no better time than now for Congress to reassert its role as a co-equal branch of government. Doing so would show that the leadership believes in the wise counsel to do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may.

Doing so would also be a step in restoring our system of checks and balances. It would be an important step in countering continued polarization. It would demonstrate that a majority understands that somethings are much more important than the outcome of the next election. And, it would tell the world that we still believe the words of Emma Lazarus on the base of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

William O'Keefe is the founder and president of Solutions Consulting. He formerly served as CEO of the George C. Marshall Institute, a nonprofit that conducted technical assessments of scientific issues with an impact on public policy before closing in 2015.