Biden issues first veto of his presidency to uphold rule allowing for environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) in retirement investing

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President Joe Biden (D) vetoed the first legislation of his presidency on March 20, 2023. Biden vetoed H. J. Res. 30, a joint resolution of disapproval under the terms of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) that sought to void a Department of Labor rule amending the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) to allow retirement plans to consider certain environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) factors in investment-related decisions. 

The CRA creates a review period during which Congress, by passing a joint resolution of disapproval later signed by the president, can overturn a new federal agency rule and block the issuing agency from creating a similar rule.

The ESG investment approach involves considering the extent to which corporations conform to certain environmental, social, and corporate governance standards (such as net carbon emission or corporate board diversity goals) and avoiding investments in or otherwise withholding funding from companies that do not meet the standard.

In his veto message, Biden said that the Department of Labor rule protected retirement savings and pensions: “There is extensive evidence showing that environmental, social, and governance factors can have a material impact on markets, industries, and businesses. But the Republican-led resolution would force retirement managers to ignore these relevant risk factors, disregarding the principles of free markets and jeopardizing the life savings of working families and retirees.”

The House of Representatives approved the resolution 216-204 on Feb. 28, 2023, with 215 Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), voting yes. The Senate approved it 50-46 on March 1, with 48 Republicans and two Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), voting yes. Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) introduced the resolution on Feb. 7 with the full title “Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to ‘Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investments and Exercising Shareholder Rights’”.

Congress may override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers. 

Presidents have issued 2,585 vetoes in American history, and Congress has overridden 112. President Franklin D. Roosevelt vetoed 635 bills, the most of any president. Presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Q. Adams, William H. Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, and James A. Garfield did not issue any vetoes.

Dating back to 1981, President Ronald Reagan (R) issued the most vetoes with 87. Biden has issued the fewest, followed by President Donald Trump (R) with nine. 

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