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President Biden is expected to soon use his veto authority for the first time

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Any day now, President Biden is expected to use his veto authority for the first time. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre says a measure passed by both the House and Senate to roll back a Biden administration financial regulation is bad for retirees.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: This is unacceptable to the president, and that is why he will veto this bill if it does come to his desk.

CHANG: All right. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now with some context to all of this. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey.

CHANG: So, OK, President Biden is more than two years into his term, and this is only his first veto. Remind us why it has taken this long.

KEITH: It's pretty simple. For the first two years in office, Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate. And it is quite rare for the party in power to pass legislation that a president from their own party doesn't agree with.

CHANG: Right.

KEITH: Now, though, you have split-party control of Congress. And this is a measure that was passed by the Republican-controlled House to reverse a Biden administration rule. That rule would allow retirement plan advisers to make investment decisions taking into consideration environmental, social and corporate governance factors. It's something commonly known as ESG, and it has been increasingly popular at the major investment firms. But Republicans call it woke investing.

CHANG: Wait. But why did the Senate, which is still controlled by Democrats - why did the Senate even take this up?

KEITH: The answer is the Congressional Review Act. And that is something that makes it easy for Congress to weigh in on and potentially block regulations that haven't gone into effect yet. And that's what this is all about - Congress disapproving of a Biden administration regulation. And in this case, two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, joined the Republicans in passing it. They are both up for reelection in 2024 in red states. Sarah Binder is a professor of political science at George Washington University, and I spoke with her.

SARAH BINDER: And so there really wasn't any stopping the Republican minority in the Senate here so long as they attracted those two Democratic votes to join them to propel this bill to Biden for signature or veto.

KEITH: And veto it will be.

CHANG: Veto it will be. So what does this mean about the chances of more vetoes from President Biden going forward, I mean, now that Republicans control the House?

KEITH: Well, there aren't a ton of bills that can get a fast track to the president's desk like this. So if Republicans can find more new regulations that they want to repeal and can get a few Democrats to support it, then this could potentially happen again. Binder says you may see a trickle of vetoes from Biden, but don't expect the floodgates to open up. And part of that is just that Congress isn't passing a lot of legislation because it is really hard to do anything with split-party control. In speeches, President Biden has issued a lot of veto threats...

CHANG: Right.

KEITH: ...But against proposals that are highly unlikely to ever get to his desk because Democrats control the Senate - things like repealing Social Security and Medicare or a national ban on abortion.

CHANG: Exactly. So let me ask you this. How does Biden compare to other presidents in terms of his use of the veto pen so far?

KEITH: And I will say that that's a turn of phrase. It's not an actual special pen.

CHANG: No way.

KEITH: Yeah.

CHANG: (Laughter).

KEITH: The president doesn't sign the bill, and he then sends a formal veto message back to Congress. But on to your question, I went back to President Carter, and it's a real mixed bag. Carter, Reagan and the first President Bush all vetoed a bill in their first year in office. Obama did, too. But for Presidents Clinton, Trump and now Biden, it didn't happen until after their party took a shellacking in the first midterm election of their presidency.

CHANG: That is NPR's Tamara Keith. Thank you, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.