President Obama signs two memoranda. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

As President Obama blows the dust off his veto stamp (pen?) in anticipation of the arrival of a bill fast-tracking the Keystone XL oil pipeline, it's worth noting what makes this potential veto unusual -- at least from a historical perspective.

The president to veto a bill was George Washington, during the second Congress. At the time, the Senate and the House were controlled by members supportive of the Washington administration. That, over time, became the norm. Of the presidential vetoes issued since Washington's, a majority have been to veto legislation coming out of a Congress allied with the president.

That's not what you'd expect, but that's what data from the American Presidency Project indicates. It breaks out vetoes by Congress, comparing composition of the House and the Senate to the party of the president. Since the beginning, here's how the 2,500-plus vetoes have broken down in relation to how supportive the Congress was. (We've also indicated how common each type of Congress was, to add some context to the size of the circles.) The shaded box at the upper right shows Congresses friendly to the president; the one at the lower left, unfriendly ones.


A little over 500 vetoes have been of legislation that came from a House and Senate hostile to the president. More than 1,200 have been of legislation from friendly Congresses.

To make the point even more clear, here's the distribution of all vetoes (including pocket and regular vetoes).


We'll note that this is in large part because of Franklin Roosevelt, who issued a huge number of vetoes even as he dealt with a Congress composed mostly of Democrats. If you look only at vetoes issued since the Carter administration, it looks a little more like you might expect, with more vetoes coming for legislation from oppositional Congresses.


To date, Obama has issued only two vetoes, of a funding bill and a bill that would have allowed interstate recognition of notarizations. Both came in 2010 -- when Democrats controlled the House and the Senate.