President Joe Biden issued the first veto of his presidency Monday on a resolution to overturn a retirement investment rule that allows managers of retirement funds to consider the impact of climate change and other environmental, social and governance factors when picking investments.
Republican lawmakers led the push to pass the resolution through Congress, arguing the rule is “woke” policy that pushes a liberal agenda on Americans and will hurt retirees’ bottom lines, while Democrats say it’s not about ideology and will help investors.
The resolution, which would rescind a Department of Labor rule, passed both chambers of Congress with Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana voting with Republicans in the Senate.
“I just signed this veto because legislation passed by the Congress would put at risk the retirement savings of individuals across the country. They couldn’t take into consideration investments that wouldn’t be impacted by climate, impacted by overpaying executives, and that’s why I decided to veto it – it makes sense to veto it,” Biden said in a video posted to social media Monday afternoon.
Biden is seen signing the veto in the video, taken in the Oval Office earlier Monday.
The veto makes good on Biden’s frequent promise to veto legislation passed by the GOP-controlled House he disagrees with. Even before Republicans took control of that chamber, Biden often mentioned his ability to nix their priorities. “The good news is I’ll have a veto pen,” he told a group of donors in Chicago just days before November’s midterm elections.
Opponents of the rule could try to override Biden’s veto, but at this point it appears unlikely they could get the two-thirds majority needed in each chamber to do so.
Biden’s first presidential veto reflects the reality of a changed political order in Washington with Republicans now in control of the House after they won back the chamber from Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections.
Previously, Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate. Now, the president’s party only has a majority in the Senate.
Most legislation passed by the current GOP-controlled House will not be able to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. But the resolution to overturn the investment rule only needed a simple majority to pass in the Senate. Republican lawmakers advanced it under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to roll back regulations from the executive branch without needing to clear the 60-vote threshold in the Senate that is necessary for most legislation.
Opponents of the rule have argued that it politicizes retirement investments and that the Biden administration is using it as a way to promote a liberal agenda.
Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming said at a news conference earlier this year, “What’s happened here is the woke and weaponized bureaucracy at the Department of Labor has come out with new regulations on retirement funds, and they want retirement funds to be invested in things that are consistent with their very liberal, left-wing agenda.”
Supporters of the rule argue that it is not a mandate – it allows, but does not require, the consideration of environmental, social and governance factors in investment selection.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in defense of the rule that Republicans are “using the same tired attacks we’ve heard for a while now that this is more wokeness. … But Republicans are missing or ignoring an important point: Nothing in the (Labor Department) rule imposes a mandate.”
“This isn’t about ideological preference, it’s about looking at the biggest picture possible for investments to minimize risk and maximize returns,” he said, noting it’s a narrow rule that is “literally allowing the free market to do its work.”
The statement of administration policy warning that Biden would veto the measure if presented with it similarly states, “the 2022 rule is not a mandate – it does not require any fiduciary to make investment decisions based solely on ESG factors. The rule simply makes sure that retirement plan fiduciaries must engage in a risk and return analysis of their investment decisions and recognizes that these factors can be relevant to that analysis.”
This story has been updated with additional developments.