Congress overrides 9/11 veto
For the 1st time, House, Senate deal Obama a stinging setback
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.