Se­nate prom­ises to over­ride veto on ter­ror­ism law­suit bill

Fam­i­lies would be able to sue Saudi of­fi­cials with al­leged ties to 9/11

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Gre­gory Korte @gre­go­ryko­rte USA TO­DAY

WASH­ING­TON Pres­i­dent Obama ve­toed a bill al­low­ing law­suits against for­eign spon­sors of ter­ror­ism Fri­day, set­ting up what could be the most con­tentious veto over­ride vote of his pres­i­dency.

The Jus­tice Against Spon­sors of Ter­ror­ism Act, or JASTA, would pro­vide an ex­cep­tion to the doc­trine of “sov­er­eign im­mu­nity,” which holds that one coun­try can’t be sued in another coun­try’s courts.

In an ex­tra­or­di­nary three­p­age veto mes­sage to Congress, Obama said he has “deep sym­pa­thy” for the fam­i­lies of vic­tims of ter­ror­ism, but that the leg­is­la­tion would in­ter­fere with the pres­i­dent’s abil­ity to con­duct for­eign pol­icy.

“I rec­og­nize that there is noth­ing that could ever erase the grief the 9/11 fam­i­lies have en­dured,” Obama said. “En­act­ing JASTA into law, how­ever, would nei­ther pro­tect Amer­i­cans from ter­ror­ist at­tacks nor im­prove the ef­fec­tive­ness of our re­sponse to such at­tacks.”

The veto came on the last pos­si­ble day; the White House had stalled for time in hopes of chang­ing minds on Capi­tol Hill.

“We cer­tainly are count­ing votes and hav­ing a num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions with mem­bers of Congress in both par­ties and both houses of Congress,” White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest said Fri­day. “I’m also ac­knowl­edg­ing that the pol­i­tics of the sit­u­a­tion are re­ally tough. And if any­thing, I think that is an il­lus­tra­tion of the prin­ci­pled na­ture of the pres­i­dent’s po­si­tion. The pres­i­dent’s not blind to the pol­i­tics of the sit­u­a­tion.”

Fam­i­lies of ter­ror vic­tims have lob­bied for the bill, which would al­low them to sue Saudi Ara­bian of­fi­cials who in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have sug­gested had ties to the hi­jack­ers of the four planes used in the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks on New York and Wash­ing­ton. The bill would al­low law­suits against other coun­tries as well.

The White House has ar­gued that the bill would prompt other na­tions to re­tal­i­ate, strip­ping the im­mu­nity the United States en­joys in other parts of the world. “And no coun­try has more to lose, in the con­text of those ex­cep­tions, than the United States of Amer­ica, given the pre-em­i­nent role that we play in global af­fairs,” Earnest said.

The veto was the 12th of Obama’s pres­i­dency, and the first to face the se­ri­ous prospect of an over­ride. It would take a twothirds vote of both cham­bers for the bill to be­come law over Obama’s ob­jec­tions.

The bill now goes back to the Se­nate, where its spon­sor, Texas Repub­li­can John Cornyn, has pledged quick ac­tion to over­ride.

“It is re­ally in­ex­pli­ca­ble to me that the pres­i­dent would talk about ve­to­ing this op­por­tu­nity for the vic­tims of 9/11 and their fam­i­lies to be able to make their case in court,” he said last week. “There is no rea­son ... to make th­ese fam­i­lies wait any longer.”

JIM LO SCALZO, EPA

Pres­i­dent Obama, who has now used his veto pen 12 times dur­ing his pres­i­dency, ve­toed a bill Fri­day that would al­low law­suits against for­eign spon­sors of ter­ror­ism.

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