The Senate voted to override President Barack Obama's veto of a bill that would permit the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts. The legislation's fate will be determined by the House.
On Sept. 28, the Senate rejected President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism by a vote of 97 to 1. It is the first time that the chamber has had enough bipartisan agreement to override an Obama veto.
“In our polarized politics of today, this is pretty much close to a miraculous occurrence,” observed Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, reports USA Today.
The only dissenting vote came from Senate Minority Leader Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada.
JASTA would enable the families of 9/11 victims to sue U.S. ally Saudi Arabia in a U.S. court. If passed into law, the bill would allow federal courts to disregard sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism that occur on American soil.
The Middle Eastern country has never been directly implicated in the al-Qaida terror attack, but there have been lingering suspicions that the country's officials provided some form of aid to the 19 hijackers, the majority of whom were Saudi nationals.
“If the Saudis were culpable, they should be held accountable,” said Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer on the Senate floor shortly before the vote, according to Fox News.
Obama has been against the legislation, warning that it could break the precedent of sovereign immunity that also protects U.S. troops and diplomats overseas.
The president wrote a letter to both Reid and Senate Majority Leader Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, expressing concern that JASTA could result in other countries using the bill to sue the U.S.
“[JASTA] could be devastating to the Department of Defense and its service members, and there is no doubt that the consequences could be equally significant to our foreign affairs and intelligence communities,” Obama wrote, reports The New York Times.
Cornyn deemed Obama’s concerns “unpersuasive ... This bill is about respecting the voices and rights of American victims.”
Some lawmakers have expressed second thoughts, with Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee noting that the bill has been rushed through Congress without full consideration of repercussions.
“On an issue of this significance, and with so many equities to balance, a fulsome floor debate would have been useful in order to air some of the unintended consequences that could occur following enactment of the legislation,” Corker said.
Terry Strada, the national chair of 9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism, believes an override of Obama’s veto is necessary to demonstrate American priorities.
“I mean, do we have a democracy or does Saudi Arabia own us?” Strada said.
Cornyn noted that enacting JASTA would not mean that the U.S. would turn its back on Saudi Arabia, a key ally in Middle Eastern affairs.
“When our interests diverge and it’s a question of protecting American rights and American values, I think we should do that,” Cornyn said. “This is not about severing our relationship with any ally. This is simply a matter of justice.”
The House is set to vote on whether to override Obama’s veto later on Sept. 28. If the chamber votes to override by a two-thirds majority, the bill will become law.