A new bill currently being deliberated in Congress would allow family members of victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for its alleged support of jihadists, and would prevent countries accused of having such terrorist ties to invoke sovereign immunity in federal court.
This is the kind of anger-based legislation which resonates with large numbers of Americans from different walks of life and different political persuasions, but which would be utterly disastrous in reality. This is undoubtedly why House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have refused to come out in support of a bill which is backed by numerous lawmakers in both parties, and why the Obama administration has rejected it outright.
Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who co-authored the bill with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, blasted the Obama administration's opposition to the bill on April 19.
"The President's attempts to derail this legislation that would help the victims of 9/11 pursue justice under the law is completely unacceptable," Cornyn said on the Senate floor, according to CNN. "Unfortunately, this shouldn't be a surprise. The President has steadfastly refused to declassify and release 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission report that pertain to allegations of Saudi Arabia's support for the 9/11 terrorists."
The basic fact is that the Obama administration has very real concerns that allowing this bill to pass unamended will begin to eviscerate the principle of sovereign immunity. While Americans of all different political stripes have long viewed the Saudi government with suspicion about its connections to terror groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, getting rid of this protection for the Saudis will have consequences for the U.S. which go beyond the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
The implicit charges being levied against the Saudi government in this bill, namely its support of terrorism, could easily be turned around on the U.S. Getting rid of sovereign immunity could mean that the U.S. is held liable for the repugnant and violent actions of certain groups it is currently aligned with in the war in Syria, a major concern of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Speaker Ryan has likewise (rightly) cautioned about the unintended consequences of the bill against popular support for it within both parties. And Mitch McConnell has been quite tight-lipped about it, saying he doesn't have any current announcements to make. The two Republican leaders seem to understand that the current popular support for the bill threatens the U.S.'s ability to have a constructive relationship with the Saudis and will have consequences at a global level.
The bill may yet pass, although it is almost certain to be vetoed by the president. And if it passes, prepare to hear many more stories about lawsuits brought against Americans in other nations and prepare for the government to be able to do nothing about it.