Senate promises to override veto on terrorism lawsuit bill
Families would be able to sue Saudi officials with alleged ties to 9/11
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.”
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.