The President’s Role in the Passage of Legislation

In order for any piece of legislation to be passed, both chambers of Congress must first pass legislation that is completely identical. If there are any changes made to the proposed legislation in either chamber, those changes must be reconciled before a final version can be passed and presented to the President for approval. One of the most commonly misunderstood matters regarding the passage of legislation is that the President is required to sign a bill in order for it to become enacted. This is not the case and it is not required by the Constitution. In most instances, when the President approves of a bill, it will be signed. In other instances, a bill can actually become a law even if the President does not sign it. Provided that the President does not return the bill to Congress with his/her objections within a matter of ten days, the bill will become law. (Article. I. Section. 7. of the US Constitution.)

Pres. Obama Signs Health Care Bill

The president may choose to object to a bill through the veto process. The bill will then be returned to Congress. In this type of situation, each separate chamber of Congress can make an attempt to override the veto but they must have a 2/3 vote in order to accomplish that outcome. Another option would be for the bill to be amended in order to gain Presidential approval.

There is also yet another option that is known as the pocket veto. This method allows the President to offer an objection to a proposed bill without taking any formal veto measures. This type of situation usually occurs when a formal veto is prevented by Congress when it adjourns within ten days, thus preventing the President from either acting upon legislation or vetoing it. A bill will actually become law on the date that it is either passed over the veto of a president or on the date that it is signed by the President. The only exception to this situation would be if a bill provides a specific effective date that is different from the passage date.

Counting of the ten day period does not include Sundays. Counting will begin at midnight on the day that the Presidential-Congressional Relations: Rivals Sharing PowerPresident receives a measure. In the even the President wishes to approve it, he will sign it, date it and write Approved at the top; although he is only required by the Constitution to sign it.

While the process of a bill actually becoming law can be somewhat intricate and involved, it is important to have a clear and solid understanding of that process, particularly if you are to be involved in the process by advocating for or against the legislation. Our Advanced Legislative Strategies is excellent start to assisting you in understanding how to be an effective advocate.

Source: Section 8.290 Presidential Action on Enacted Measures, from Congressional Deskbook: The Practical and Comprehensive Guide to Congress, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider

For detailed information about the legislative process, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:


  • Summary of Bills Vetoed, 1789-present – United States Senate
  • “The Presidential Veto and Congressional Procedure,” CRS Report for Congress RS21750 (5-page PDF PDF )
  • “Veto Override Procedure in the House and Senate,” CRS Report for Congress RS22654 (7-page PDF PDF )
  • “Regular Vetoes and Pocket Vetoes: An Overview,” CRS Report for Congress RS22188 (9-page PDF PDF )