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Presidential Communications: A Beginner’s Guide

This post is coauthored by Robert Brammer and Barbara Bavis, senior legal reference specialists.

We sometimes receive questions about communications sent to Congress by the president that concern legislation. Since this post pertains to legislative history, our focus is on executive communications, presidential messages, veto messages, and signing statements. If you would like to learn more about presidential proclamations and executive orders, these are covered in another Beginner’s Guide.

Chester A. Arthur, President of the United States, Photograph by Charles Milton Bell. (1882). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a07409

Chester A. Arthur, President of the United States, Photograph by Charles Milton Bell. (1882). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a07409

  • Executive communications are statements or petitions presented to Congress by the executive branch or other organization that may affect appropriations.
  • Presidential messages are written statements presented to Congress, which include the president’s Budget, State of the Union address, and messages regarding the need for legislation.
  • Veto messages are messages sent to Congress when the president exercises his or her veto power over legislation.
  • Signing statements express the president’s opinion on legislation and may include his or her interpretation on how the legislation may be enforced by the executive branch.

Sources

Congressional Record – The Congressional Record includes presidential messages, including veto messages. To learn more about the Congressional Record and its predecessors, check out our Beginner’s Guide on the topic.

House and Senate Journals – These journals include presidential messages.  For more information about where to find these messages, look to the entry for “President of the United States” in each Journal‘s index.

Congress.gov – Congress.gov contains abstracts of executive communications, presidential messages, and petitions and memorials from the 100th Congress (1987-1988) to the present.   To access executive communications, look under the Senate heading on the homepage and click on “executive communications.” You can search for a communication by citation or keyword via the search box at the top of the screen and can narrow down your result by Congress. You can also narrow your results or browse for an executive communication using the facets on the results page, which include Congress, communication type, and Senate committee. A reference to a Congressional Record date will appear on the abstract page for presidential messages. If you would like to view the message in its entirety, you can use this date to locate it in the Congressional Record.

Further, veto messages are linked in a bill’s summary and status page for affected legislation. Simply find the entry for the veto message on the bill’s “Actions” tab, click on the linked Congressional Record citation, and it will take you to the issue that contains the veto message.

Compilation of Presidential Documents – The Compilation of Presidential Documents consists of materials released from the White House press secretary and is published by the Office of the Federal Register (OFR) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The Compilation is available on FDSys dating back to 1993. This compilation includes veto messages, signing statements, messages to Congress, and a list of acts approved by the president. There are finding aids available that include a list of acts approved by the president, a checklist of White House releases, a digest of other White House announcements, and nominations submitted to the Senate.

A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents – This multi-volume set contains presidential messages from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge.

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States -The Public Papers of the Presidents begins with the Hoover administration. This set includes the president’s messages to Congress, including signing statements, public speeches, news conferences, and public letters. Note that prior to 1977, this set was an edited version of the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents. This set does not include the papers of Franklin Roosevelt.

American Presidency ProjectThe American Presidency Project contains a great deal of information on the executive branch, including a collection of signing statements. It also includes “The Messages and Papers of the Presidents” (1789-1913), the “Public Papers of the Presidents,” and the “Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents” (1977-2009).

United States Code Congressional and Administrative News – This legislative history compilation set has reprinted signing statements since 1986.

The U.S. Serial Set – Presidential messages to Congress concerning the need for legislation may be published as House documents. House documents are available in the U.S. Serial Set and are discussed in a previous Beginner’s Guide

The White House Briefing Room – The White House may post press releases or fact sheets that, while not as formal as messages, contain arguments in support or opposition to legislation.

If you have a question, please contact us through Ask A Librarian.

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