Congress over­rides 9/11 veto

For the 1st time, House, Se­nate deal Obama a sting­ing set­back

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Lisa Mas­caro and Michael A. Memoli

WASH­ING­TON — The Repub­li­can-led Congress has been angling for this mo­ment: the chance to fi­nally de­liver Pres­i­dent Barack Obama a sting­ing re­buke with the first veto over­ride since he took of­fice.

It may not be the po­lit­i­cal score many Repub­li­cans had en­vi­sioned. The tim­ing comes near the end of Obama’s pres­i­dency and on a bill — which would let 9/11 fam­i­lies sue the Saudi Ara­bian gov­ern­ment — that some law­mak­ers con­cede is prob­lem­atic.

But on Wednes­day, the Se­nate voted 97-1 to over­ride Obama’s veto of the Jus­tice Against Spon­sors of Ter­ror­ism Act. The House fol­lowed with an over­ride vote of 348-77.

It was the first time Congress has suc­cess­fully chal­lenged the pres­i­dent on a piece of leg­is­la­tion, de­spite Obama’s 12 other ve­toes, in­clud­ing 10 when Repub­li­cans were the ma­jor­ity of both houses.

In most in­stances, Congress didn’t at­tempt an over­ride. The White House made mod­est ges­tures to stop the over­ride with warn­ings from its na­tional se­cu­rity team.

Af­ter the votes Wednes­day, White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest blasted the ac­tion as “em- Demo­cratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, left, and GOP Sen. John Cornyn voice their ap­proval of the 97-1 Se­nate vote Wednes­day. bar­rass­ing” to Congress and pre­dicted law­mak­ers would have to an­swer to their con­stituents.

The op­po­si­tion had lit­tle chance against the com­pelling sto­ries of the 9/11 vic­tims’ fam­i­lies and friends who have pres­sured Congress for al­most a decade to pass the leg­is­la­tion.

“This rare mo­ment of bi­par­ti­san­ship is a tes­ta­ment to the strength of the 9/11 fam­i­lies,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the bill’s au­thors. “Over­rid­ing a pres­i­den­tial veto is some­thing we don’t take lightly, but it was im­por­tant in this case.”

Af­ter a per­sonal ap­peal from Obama, Sen. Harry Reid of Ne­vada, the Demo­cratic leader, was the lone Se­nate vote against the over­ride.

Two other sen­a­tors — Tim Kaine of Vir­ginia, the Demo­cratic vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, and Bernie San­ders of Ver­mont — did not vote be­cause they were on the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign trail in sup­port of Hil­lary Clin­ton.

The de­ci­sion split Mary­land’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion. Three mem­bers, Rep. Eli­jah E. Cum­mings of Bal­ti­more, Rep. C.A. Dutch Rup­pers­berger of Bal­ti­more County and Rep. Donna F. Ed­wards of Prince Ge­orge’s County, voted to sus­tain Obama’s veto.

“I am con­cerned that the ben­e­fits of this bill would be over­whelmed by its po­ten­tial risks to Amer­ica’s for­eign in­ter­ests,” Cum­mings said in a state­ment.

“The fam­i­lies of Amer­i­cans lost on 9/11 de­serve jus­tice, which is why I am hope­ful that Congress will con­tinue to re­view this is­sue and fine tune this leg­is­la­tion to bal­ance the for­eign and do­mes­tic in­ter­ests of the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

Rup­pers­berger agreed and said he hopes Congress will re­turn to the is­sue. He noted that mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials said they be­lieve the mea­sure will set a “dan­ger­ous prece­dent.”

“The 9-11 vic­tims and their fam­i­lies de­serve re­lief, but the ben­e­fits of this bill could un­for­tu­nately en­dan­ger more Amer­i­can lives,” he said in a state­ment.

Sen. Ben Cardin, the toprank­ing Demo­crat on the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, an­nounced Wednes­day morn­ing, min­utes be­fore the vote, that he could not stand in the way of fam­i­lies who have lob­bied for the abil­ity to sue.

“Af­ter care­ful con­sider- ation of Pres­i­dent Obama’s veto, I be­lieve that the risks of shield­ing the per­pe­tra­tors of ter­ror­ism from jus­tice are greater than the risks this leg­is­la­tion may pose to Amer­ica’s pres­ence around the world,” he said in a state­ment.

Demo­cratic Sen. Bar­bara A. Mikul­ski of Mary­land also voted to over­ride the veto.

The leg­is­la­tion would amend ex­ist­ing law to al­low U.S. courts to hear ter­ror­ism cases against for­eign states, nar­row­ing the scope of im­mu­nity now granted to sov­er­eign for­eign ac­tors.

Sup­port­ers say it will al­low vic­tims of ter­ror­ism their day in court.

But op­po­nents warn that it could com­pli­cate U.S. re­la­tion­ships abroad and open the flood­gates to suits by for­eign­ers against the U.S. gov­ern­ment.

CIA Di­rec­tor John Brennan warned of “grave im­pli­ca­tions” to na­tional se­cu­rity, and De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter said it could be “dev­as­tat­ing” to the de­part­ment.

While adamant that the 9/11 leg­is­la­tion could have far-reach­ing con­se­quences and po­ten­tially hurt U.S. al­liances, not only with Saudi Ara­bia but with other al­lies, the ad­min­is­tra­tion does not ap­pear to have made a full-court ef­fort to stop it.

Obama’s Demo­cratic al­lies on Capi­tol Hill sug­gested the over­ride vote was not an af­front to the pres­i­dent but rather a dif­fer­ence of opin­ion based on the roles Obama and Congress play in gov­ern­ing.

“It isn’t anti-the pres­i­dent,” House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

SHAWN THEW/EPA

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