Congress bucks Obama veto of bill to let 9/11 fam­i­lies sue

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Repub­li­cans and Democrats linked arms and de­liv­ered a sting­ing de­feat to Pres­i­dent Obama, vot­ing to over­ride his veto of a bill that would give vic­tims of the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks a chance to sue Saudi Ara­bia in U.S. courts over the be­hav­ior of Saudi of­fi­cials they be­lieve may have been com­plicit in the at­tack.

The Se­nate voted 97-1, while the House voted 348-77 — both far more than the two-thirds needed to en­act the leg­is­la­tion over Mr. Obama’s veto.

“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,” said Terry Strada, na­tional chair­woman of the 9/11 Fam­i­lies & Sur­vivors United for Jus­tice Against Ter­ror­ism.

It’s the first over­ride of Mr. Obama’s ten­ure, and for Democrats it marked a rare re­buke of their party leader, whom they’ve de­fended on thorny is­sues rang­ing from the Key­stone XL pipe­line to Oba­macare. But Democrats said they couldn’t go along this time, ar­gu­ing that giv­ing Amer­i­cans their chance at a day in court was too im­por­tant a prin­ci­ple.

The White House had tried to rally its troops but, fail­ing that, lashed out at Congress, say­ing law­mak­ers didn’t even un­der­stand the law they just passed.

“This is the sin­gle most em­bar­rass­ing thing the United States Se­nate has done pos­si­bly since 1983,” said press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest, who de­liv­ered the scold­ing as he trav­eled with Mr. Obama in Vir­ginia.

Mr. Obama him­self was more mea­sured, call­ing the over­ride “a mis­take.” He said he un­der­stood the vote, but ac­cused his for­mer col­leagues in Congress of cav­ing to emo­tional pres­sure from the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies.

Mr. Obama ar­gues it’s his job to han­dle for­eign pol­icy, and he said those is­sues shouldn’t be left to lawyers, pri­vate ci­ti­zens and the courts. That marks a stun­ning turn­around for the for­mer con­sti­tu­tional law pro­fes­sor who, in other ar­eas, has reg­u­larly pushed for vic­tims to have more ac­cess to the courts.

The pres­i­dent also said he fears other coun­tries will re­tal­i­ate against the U.S. by fil­ing law­suits in their courts against Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing U.S. troops op­er­at­ing over­seas.

“So if you have a sit­u­a­tion where we’re do­ing dis­as­ter re­lief in the Philip­pines or some other — or Haiti, and a traf­fic ac­ci­dent hap­pens where, trag­i­cally, a cit­i­zen of that coun­try is killed, if they passed the same kind of leg­is­la­tion that we just passed, now, po­ten­tially, that fam­ily in that coun­try could start su­ing the United States. They might say we’re go­ing to take ju­ris­dic­tion over that in­di­vid­ual,” Mr. Obama said in a town hall on CNN.

For the first time in his pres­i­dency, he was un­con­vinc­ing, even to his own party.

“Over­rid­ing 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,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat.

The bill’s back­ers re­jected each of Mr. Obama’s ob­jec­tions, say­ing he was cre­at­ing straw men. They said the new law only ap­plies in cases of ter­ror­ism, and Amer­i­can troops, who aren’t be­ing trained to kill civil­ians or en­gage in ter­ror­ist strikes, won’t be af­fected.

The bill, dubbed the Jus­tice Against Spon­sors of Ter­ror­ism Act, was the 10th veto of Mr. Obama’s ten­ure. In many of the pre­vi­ous cases, Congress didn’t even bother to hold a vote to over­ride the pres­i­dent.

But law­mak­ers speeded this over­ride through, act­ing just five days af­ter the veto — and get­ting it done be­fore they leave for a long pre-Elec­tion Day va­ca­tion.

The re­jec­tion was par­tic­u­larly bruis­ing for a White House that had in­sisted it was mak­ing head­way over the last cou­ple of weeks in win­ning law­mak­ers to its point of view.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Harry Reid, the cu­ra­tor of Mr. Obama’s leg­isla­tive agenda over the last eight years, was the only sen­a­tor to back Mr. Obama.

Mr. Reid, who was on the Se­nate floor re­peat­edly, did not of­fer a pub­lic ex­pla­na­tion for his vote. But his of­fice re­leased a let­ter Mr. Obama sent plead­ing with the Ne­vada Demo­crat to stand firm.

Mr. Earnest thanked Mr. Reid for show­ing “courage” in stand­ing with Mr. Obama.

In the House, 225 Repub­li­cans and 123 Democrats voted for the over­ride. Only 18 Repub­li­cans and 59 Democrats voted to sus­tain Mr. Obama’s veto. One Demo­crat, Rep. Kathy Cas­tor of Florida, voted “present.”

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