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Congress rebukes Obama, overrides veto of 9/11 legislation

  • C-SPAN2 VIA AP

    This frame grab from video provided by C-SPAN2, shows the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington today as the Senate acted decisively to override President Barack Obama’s veto of Sept. 11 legislation, setting the stage for the contentious bill to become law despite flaws that Obama and top Pentagon officials warn could put U.S. troops and interests at risk.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    The floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, today, as the Senate acted decisively to override President Barack Obama’s veto of Sept. 11 legislation, setting the stage for the contentious bill to become law despite flaws that Obama and top Pentagon officials warn could put U.S. troops and interests at risk.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. spoke with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 14. The Senate is poised to reject President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill that would allow the families of Sept. 11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia even as lawmakers express fears the legislation could backfire on the United States.

WASHINGTON » In a resounding rebuke, Democrats joined with Republicans today to hand Barack Obama the first veto override of his presidency, voting overwhelmingly to allow families of Sept. 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts for its alleged backing of the attackers.

Both the House and Senate voted decisively to reverse Obama’s decision to scuttle the legislation. Democrats in both chambers abandoned the president in large numbers despite warnings from Obama and top national security officials that flaws in the bill could put U.S. interests, troops, and intelligence personnel at risk.

The Senate vote was 97-1, with only Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., backing the president. The House vote a few hours later was 348-77, with 123 Democrats rebuffing the president and voting to override. Obama said during a CNN interview that overriding his veto was a mistake that may set a “dangerous precedent.”

Lawmakers said their priority wasn’t Saudi Arabia, but the 9/11 victims and their families who continue to demand justice 15 years after attackers killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, the Washington, D.C., area, and Pennsylvania. Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudis.

“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. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a chief sponsor of the bill.

Speaking at a forum in Washington, CIA Director John Brennan said he was concerned about how Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, would interpret the bill. He said the Saudis provide significant amounts of information to the U.S. to help foil extremist plots.

“It would be an absolute shame if this legislation, in any way, influenced the Saudi willingness to continue to be among our best counterterrorism partners,” Brennan said.

On CNN, Obama said that a few lawmakers who backed the bill weren’t aware of its potential impact. He didn’t name them. “And, frankly, I wish Congress here had done what’s hard,” he said. “It was, you know, basically a political vote.”

But Republicans and Democrats said the White House had been slow to respond to the bill and miscalculated lawmakers’ intent to act on the legislation along with the 15th anniversary of the terror attacks. When Obama and senior national security officials such as Defense Secretary Ash Carter finally weighed in, it was too late.

The Senate passed the bill by voice vote in May. The Obama White House then made the mistake of thinking the bill would stall in the Republican-controlled House. In August, 9/11 families pressured Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., while he was on a campaign swing in New York.

On Sept. 9, two days before the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the House passed the bill by voice vote with little debate.

Despite reversing Obama’s decision, a bipartisan group of 28 senators led by Bob Corker, R-Tenn., suggested that defects in the bill could open a legal Pandora’s box, triggering lawsuits from people in other countries seeking redress for injuries or deaths caused by military actions in which the U.S. may have had a role.

Corker, the chairman of Foreign Relations Committee, chided the White House for being outraged over the outcome when the administration did so little to sustain the president’s veto.

“There was zero desire to sit down and talk about a way to get to a better outcome. Zero,” Corker told The Associated Press. “To my knowledge, I don’t know of a call from Obama to a single senator over this.”

In a letter sent Tuesday to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Obama said the bill would erode sovereign immunity principles that prevent foreign litigants “from second-guessing our counterterrorism operations and other actions that we take every day.”

But proponents of the bill dismissed Obama’s concerns as unpersuasive. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, and other supporters said the bill is narrowly tailored and applies only to acts of terrorism that occur on U.S. soil.

Families of the victims and their attorneys dismissed concerns over the legislation as fearmongering. “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 chair of the 9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism.

The legislation gives victims’ families the right to sue in U.S. court for any role that elements of the Saudi government may have played in the 2001 attacks. Courts would be permitted to waive a claim of foreign sovereign immunity when an act of terrorism occurred inside U.S. borders, according to the terms of the bill.

Obama vetoed the measure last week, telling lawmakers the bill would make the U.S. vulnerable to retaliatory litigation.

In a separate letter sent Monday to a senior House member, Defense Secretary Ash Carter described the potential for foreign litigants to seek classified intelligence data and analysis and sensitive operational information to establish their cases in what could be an “intrusive discovery process.”

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  • The over-ride should not be accomplished as foreigners could now pursue damages our Government for wherever we have secret operations! Foreign government impacted by our involvement in even charitable endeavors are open litigation. A tit-for-tat situation. Beware of what we sow?

    • Could be worse, individual US citizens could be sued, for example the pilot who accidentally causes civilian deaths during a bombing run, the commander who ordered the bombing fun, could be sued.

    • foreigners cannot pursue damages because this terrorist attack happened during peace time, we are now at war with the middle east terrorist, read the article good they cannot sue for damages because we do not do terrorist acts during peace time and even at war. we are not terrorist, so your claim is totally false about other foreigners pursuing damages.

  • Yeah, even if these families win in court, do you think these foreign governments would actually pay up? With the cost of litigation, these families would have to eat the court costs and have nothing to show for it. The case against these countries would be hard to prove anyway, since actual evidence is hard to come by and these 9/11 terrorists were all rogue players anyway with no tie to any government.

  • Even if there is court action, Saudi Arabia will just ignore it. After all, what are you going to do against the country? Nothing at all.

    So many utterly dysfunctional elected bureaucrats.

  • Awwwww…poor Barry. No more Hopey Changey Yes We Can?? This is why we have term limits, professor. Nobody cares, anymore, and your party is showing you exactly how “thankful” they are for you creating a situation where a buffoon like Trump actually has a chance against the Dem candidate.

    Barry’s probably in his office, throwing a tantrum and trying to figure out how to executive-order the removal of term limits.

    Buh-Bye, loser. And please stay in Chicago where you can slip away into obscurity. You’re not wanted here.

      • This man is an abject failure, an embarrassment on a global scale, a divisive, race-baiting ideologue who is ripping our country apart, an egomaniacal sociopath in the same league as Trump and, thanks to local people and their ridiculous “local boy” mentality, a perpetual stain on our state. In 20 years, only locals will even remember this loser.

        The only things he has been successful at creating are the worst race relations in America since the 1960s, the advent of homegrown terror attacks on our own soil and the international perception of America as weak, indecisive and a superpower-no-more.

        I don’t care who wins this upcoming election, because ANYONE will be better than what we have now.

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