Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected President Barack Obama’s veto of
legislation allowing relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to
sue Saudi Arabia, the first veto override of his presidency, just four
months before it ends.
House of Representatives voted 348-77 against the veto, hours after the
Senate rejected it 97-1, meaning the “Justice Against Sponsors of
Terrorism Act” will become law.
vote was a blow to Obama as well as to Saudi Arabia, one of the United
States’ longest-standing allies in the Arab world, and some lawmakers
who supported the override already plan to revisit the issue.
said he thought the Congress had made a mistake, reiterating his belief
that the legislation set a dangerous precedent and indicating that he
thought political considerations were behind the vote.
you’re perceived as voting against 9/11 families right before an
election, not surprisingly, that’s a hard vote for people to take. But
it would have been the right thing to do,” he said on CNN.
11 previous vetoes were all sustained. But this time almost all his
strongest Democratic supporters in Congress joined Republicans to oppose
him in one of their last actions before leaving Washington to campaign
for the Nov. 8 election.
a presidential veto is something we don’t take lightly, but it was
important in this case that the families of the victims of 9/11 be
allowed to pursue justice, even if that pursuit causes some diplomatic
discomforts,” Senator Charles Schumer, a top Senate Democrat, said in a
Schumer represents New
York, site of the World Trade Center and home to many of the nearly
3,000 people killed in the 2001 attacks, survivors and families of
The law, known as JASTA, passed the House and Senate without objections earlier this year.
was fueled by impatience in Congress with Saudi Arabia over its human
rights record, promotion of a severe form of Islam tied to militancy and
failure to do more to ease the international refugee crisis.
The law grants an exception to the legal
principle of sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism on U.S. soil,
clearing the way for lawsuits seeking damages from the Saudi government.
has denied longstanding suspicions that it backed the hijackers who
attacked the United States in 2001. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were
had tied their last push for the bill to the 15th anniversary of the
attacks this month, demonstrating outside the White House and Capitol.
On Wednesday, two fire trucks displayed a giant U.S. flag outside the
“We rejoice in this
triumph and look forward to our day in court and a time when we may
finally get more answers regarding who was truly behind the attacks,”
Terry Strada, whose husband died in the attacks, said in a statement.
Obama argued that JASTA could
expose U.S. companies, troops and officials to lawsuits if other
countries passed reciprocal legislation, and may anger important allies.
called Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and wrote a letter to him
explaining that he strongly believed enacting JASTA into law would be
detrimental to U.S. interests. Reid became the only senator to side with
Some lawmakers said the White House, which has a history of poor relations with Congress, had waited too long to fight the bill.
Sept. 11 families have received more than $7 billion, but bill backers
said their intention was to allow lawsuits to punish any government that
backs terrorism on U.S. soil.
“This bill was carefully negotiated over more
than six years,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, another New York
Democrat, told the House.
issue, however, may not be finished. At least 28 senators signed a
letter to JASTA’s sponsors, Schumer and Republican Senator John Cornyn,
asking that they work with them to mitigate any potential unintended
national security and foreign policy consequences.
The Saudi government financed an extensive lobbying campaign against the legislation.
corporations including General Electric Co and Dow Chemical Co also
opposed it, as did the European Union and other U.S. allies.
of Defense Ash Carter and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint
chiefs of staff, opposed the bill and CIA Director John Brennan said
JASTA had “grave implications” for national security.
Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate,
and Bernie Sanders, an independent and former Democratic White House
contender, did not vote.
opponents in the House included Representative Mac Thornberry,
Republican chairman of the Armed Services committee, and Adam Smith, its
ranking Democrat, citing concern about U.S. forces overseas.