Special Report

Presidents With the Best and Worst Relationships With Congress

Hristina Byrnes, John Harrington

Source: National Archives / Getty Images

Andrew Johnson
> Years served: 1865 – 1869
> Relationship with Congress score: 17.1 (the lowest)
> Crisis leadership score: 25.3 (2nd lowest)
> Party affiliation: Democrat

President Andrew Johnson and Congress did not get along right from the start of his presidency following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Congressmen did not like Johnson’s Reconstruction plan. They overrode his veto on laws concerning former slaves — the first time this had happened in American political history — and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which established former slaves as citizens and banned discrimination against them. Congress impeached Johnson in 1868 for violating the Tenure of Office Act after he sacked the secretary of war, who also opposed the president’s Reconstruction plans. He was acquitted.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

James Buchanan
> Years served: 1857-1861
> Relationship with Congress score: 28.4 (2nd lowest)
> Crisis leadership score: 17.4 (the lowest)
> Party affiliation: Democrat

Seven Southern states seceded from the Union during President James Buchanan’s time in office. His relationship with Congress began deteriorating when he expressed support for Kansas joining the Union as a slave state. (Kansas remained a separate territory until 1861.) In 1858, one year into Buchanan’s term, Republicans regained control of Congress, blocking many of his proposals, and he, in return, vetoing their bills.

Source: National Archives / Newsmakers / Getty Images

John Tyler
> Years served: 1841-1845
> Relationship with Congress score: 31.0 (3rd lowest)
> Crisis leadership score: 40.1 (8th lowest)
> Party affiliation: Independent

The 10th president of the United States was the first to assume office after his predecessor died. Though he ran for vice president on the Whig ticket, as president he clashed with the Whig Party, which was formed in reaction to what were deemed as authoritarian policies of President Andrew Jackson, including his decision not to remove federal funds from the national bank. After Tyler vetoed bills aiming to create a new national bank, the Whigs started an impeachment process, the first time it was initiated, but the resolution failed.

Source: 8905239@N05 / Flickr

Franklin Pierce
> Years served: 1853-1857
> Relationship with Congress score: 36.6 (4th lowest)
> Crisis leadership score: 26.9 (3rd lowest)
> Party affiliation: Democrat

President Franklin Pierce supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The controversial act repealed the ban on slavery in Kansas, established Kansas and Nebraska as territories, and gave the right for white inhabitants, not Congress, to decide whether they should allow slavery. Opposition in Congress against the act was fierce and led to the formation of the Republican Party. Violence in Kansas between pro- and anti-slavery supporter broke out, a period often referred to as “Bleeding Kansas.”

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Barack Obama
> Years served: 2009-2017
> Relationship with Congress score: 37.8 (5th lowest)
> Crisis leadership score: 65.4 (15th highest)
> Party affiliation: Democrat

While President Barack Obama’s relationship with Congress started well with the passing of the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, it degraded as Republicans gained control in the midterm elections. At the end of his presidency, Senate Republicans even refused to consider Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Conservatives say he passed too many executive orders because his proposed rules and regulations failed to get Congress approval. Obama issued a total of 277 executive orders, or an average of 35 a year, the fewest since President Grover Cleveland.