Risking an election-year public backlash, President Obama on Friday vetoed popular but controversial legislation allowing the relatives of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts. Obama’s rejection of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) sets up what seems likely to be the first-ever successful congressional vote to override his veto.
“Enacting JASTA into law,” Obama warned in a lengthy veto statement, “would neither protect Americans from terrorist attacks nor improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks.”
Hours before Obama rejected the measure, his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, broke sharply with his position. “She would sign this legislation if it came to her desk,” Clinton campaign spokesman Jesse Lehrich told Yahoo News by email. She had previously staked out ambiguous turf, applauding congressional “efforts” to get justice for 9/11 families without explicitly supporting the legislation.
Donald Trump’s campaign did not return requests for the Republican presidential nominee’s position. But after Obama’s veto, he released a statement saying it was “shameful and will go down as one of the low points of his presidency.”
“If elected president, I would sign such legislation should it reach my desk,” the GOP nominee vowed.
Obama’s veto sets up a congressional battle that pits the White House and its allies against supporters of the bill, who need a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override Obama. The fight takes place against the backdrop of an election season in which candidates facing the voters surely dread the prospect of explaining why they sided against a measure strongly supported by the relatives of people killed on Sept. 11, 2001.
The legislation never explicitly mentions Saudi Arabia, which was home to most of the 9/11 hijackers, but that American ally is widely understood to be the main target. The bill would change federal law to allow lawsuits against foreign governments or officials for injuries, death or damages stemming from an act of international terrorism. Current law recognizes “sovereign immunity,” which protects governments and government officials from civil cases.
Representatives of 9/11 families denounced the veto, saying they were “outraged and dismayed” by Obama’s decision and urging Congress to do right by them “by quickly overriding this veto.”
Republican Sen. John Cornyn, a leading author of the bill, branded Obama’s decision “disappointing” and said an override vote would give 9/11 families “the chance to seek the justice they deserve, and send a clear message that we will not tolerate those who finance terrorism in the United States.”
(via: Oliver Knox)