- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2015

President Obama is issuing veto threats at a historic pace, records show, a clear signal to the Republican-controlled Congress that the White House is eager for battle on a variety of fronts.

Since Jan. 3, Mr. Obama has said he will veto 11 pieces of legislation, including a measures approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline and restrictions on abortion, among others. He also has vowed to reject any bill imposing additional economic sanctions on Iran.

Mr. Obama’s 12 veto threats represent a 30-year high. No other president in recent times has signaled the use of his veto pen so often in the early days of a congressional session.

Mr. Obama set another record last month by pledging during his State of the Union address to veto four bills. No other president has issued so many veto warnings during a speech to Congress.

The president has maintained that aggressive posture. At a White House meeting last week, he told a group of illegal immigrants that he would stop a Republican-backed bill to partially defund the Department of Homeland Security. The measure would block funding for Mr. Obama’s executive action halting deportations for millions of illegal immigrants.

“I want to be as clear as possible: I will veto any legislation that comes to my desk that took away the chance of these young people who grew up here, and who are prepared to contribute to this country, that would prevent them from doing so,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m confident I can uphold that veto.”

The practice of formal veto threats, delivered through White House documents known as “statements of administration policy,” began with the Reagan White House in 1985. Mr. Obama has issued 11 such statements from Jan. 3 through Sunday, in addition to a verbal threat on proposed sanctions against Iran.

Other presidents in similarly precarious political positions — with their parties taking huge losses in midterm elections — have come nowhere close to Mr. Obama’s level of veto threats.

In 2007, President George W. Bush issued three formal veto threats from Jan. 3 to Feb. 8, according to records compiled by the American Presidency Project and Samuel Kernell, a scholar at the University of California, San Diego.

In 1995, after Democrats were thrashed in the 1994 midterms, President Clinton issued no veto threats during the first five weeks of the year, though he did issue dozens over the two-year congressional session.

President Reagan in 1987 came closest to Mr. Obama’s pace by issuing six veto threats from Jan. 3 to Feb. 8 after Democrats gained seats in the House and captured control of the Senate in the 1986 midterm elections.

By taking a more hard-line approach than his predecessors, Mr. Obama is trying to prove he won’t go quietly and is seeking to fend off the “lame duck” label that is typically attached to presidents during their final two years in office, political analysts say.

Republicans see a political upside in forcing the president’s hand on a range of issues.

“The GOP has big incentives to make the point that they are trying to force changes. Obama has big incentives to make the point that he is not going to be rolled over easily. At some point, it’s just a game of chicken,” said John Woolley, a political science professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and co-director of the American Presidency Project, which tracks data on each presidential administration.

Republicans have expressed public frustration with the White House’s veto threats. In late January, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said Mr. Obama should learn from Reagan and Mr. Clinton, both of whom worked with the opposing party to secure major legislative achievements.

“Our government is divided. No one gets 100 percent of what they want,” Mr. McCarthy told CBS News. “The president wants to work with us? We’ve only been here 2 weeks and he’s put seven veto threats [on the table]. I think that’s probably not the best start.”

Mr. Obama also has said he will veto legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a measure to change the federal permitting processes for natural gas pipelines and a bill to add restrictions on any taxpayer funding for abortion.

While Republicans control both chambers of Congress, it’s unclear whether any of the bills could garner enough votes to override a veto, which requires a two-thirds majority in the House and the Senate.

Even measures with strong bipartisan support, such as the legislation approving Keystone, don’t appear to have enough support to overcome vetoes.

Some political analysts say Mr. Obama, while pursuing a different strategy at the outset of a congressional session, may reduce his veto threats once he feels he has regained some level of control over debates in Washington.

“There are historically more veto threats in a divided government, but it doesn’t usually come all at once,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston who has written on presidential leadership. “When presidents feel like they’re boxed in politically and when they feel the power of their office is being challenged, they’ll use the veto threat to regain some sort of equilibrium.”

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