Like most presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt encountered both opposition and accord from members of Congress. Some legislators were steadfast and vocal in their disparagement. For example, one senator from Minnesota compared Roosevelt to the “beast of the Apocalypse … who set his slimy mark on everything."

The First New Deal

Franklin Delano Roosevelt entered office in 1933 and went immediately to work crafting a flurry of legislation to rescue the country from the Great Depression. After declaring a “banking holiday” to prevent depositors from withdrawing all their funds, he called Congress into an emergency session. He presented them with a bill to review banks to ensure they were on solid financial footing and to issue Federal Reserve notes based on the actual assets of each bank. The bill passed that same afternoon. Following the success of the banking bill, Roosevelt pushed a variety of other social assistance legislation through Congress, including the Reforestation Relief Act to establish the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put young men to work building facilities in national parks; the Tennessee Valley Authority, which constructed dams and power plants along the Tennessee Valley; and the Federal Securities Act to regulate stocks and bonds.

Why Congress Cooperated

FDR changed the power ratio between the executive and legislative branches by assuming the role of the leader of Congress. He was able to do so in large part because his party held the majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. He also used the experience and contacts of his vice president, John Nance Garner, very successfully. Garner had served in Congress for 30 years and had an especially strong relationship with the large and powerful Texas delegation. Roosevelt communicated well with the public, and Americans, with their ears glued to the radio during his “fireside chats,” made sure their legislators knew how they felt about Roosevelt and his belief that “happy days are here again.”

Not Everyone Was Happy

Roosevelt had critics both in and out of government. Some historians said the Congress of the “first hundred days” "did not so much debate the bills it passed … as salute them as they went sailing by." However, Congress routinely voted against FDR’s proposals and for proposals with which he disagreed. FDR made extensive use of the executive order, for example, recognizing the USSR, providing aid to the Allies and leading the strongly isolationist nation toward active involvement in World War II. He used his veto 30 percent more in his first two terms than all the preceding presidents combined.

The Second New Deal

In 1935, FDR successfully pushed through another round of reforms. He hoped many of the bills would make his emergency measures permanent. He sought to show a more populist side by attacking big business and the wealthy class. This earned him the epithet “traitor to his class” and the enmity of legislators who had earlier supported or at least not opposed him. However, many of the measures he managed to push through created agencies whose benefits lifted many out of the Depression, including the Works Progress Administration that put millions of people to work in an enormous variety of jobs. Many agencies and programs are still operating today, including Social Security and the National Labor Relations Board.

Court-Packing Plan

During Roosevelt’s first term, the Supreme Court struck down several New Deal programs, including the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Railroad Retirement Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act. In addition, growing criticism from both the left and the right indicated a decline in popular support. In 1937, FDR proposed a plan to reorganize the judiciary to allow him to increase the number of Supreme Court justices and replace justices who were over 70 years old. In July, after much debate, the Senate declined to enact FDR’s court-packing scheme, which even members of his own party saw as a power grab.

World War II

During the 1930s, Congress passed the Neutrality Acts, prohibiting the sale of arms or the loaning of money to belligerents (countries at war). Americans were also prohibited from traveling on belligerents’ ships. In 1940 Roosevelt also signed the "Destroyers for Bases" agreement in which the United States agreed to give the British obsolete destroyers in exchange for 99-year leases to territories in Newfoundland and the Caribbean, for U.S. air and naval bases. The “Lend-Lease Act,” passed in December 1940, allowed Britain to lease ships on credit. Congress was violently opposed, viewing this as tantamount to a declaration of war, especially as the nation’s industries began formally retooling for war. Within a year the country had experienced the attack on Pearl Harbor and was at war. Some legislators continued to oppose many of the president’s proposals, but many recognized his effective handling of the war and generally voted to pass his legislation.