Obama Distressed, as Congress Mulls 9/11 Bill to Sue Saudis

Poor Obama – the Republican-led Congress doesn’t appear to be doing his bidding on a piece of legislation that gives families of September 11 terrorist attack victims the right to sue Saudi Arabia.

As the Hill reported: The House is taking up legislation that’s already cleared the Senate – by a wide and nonpartisan margin, no less – that would let victims’ families go after perceived guilty Saudi parties in U.S. courts.

“Obama has fiercely opposed the bill, arguing it could both strain relations with Saudi Arabia and also lead to retaliatory legislation overseas against U.S. citizens,” the Hill reported. “The Saudi government has led a quiet campaign in Washington to kill the legislation.”

But even Democrats are on board with passing the bill – so much so, that Obama’s opposition may not prevent an override of any veto he attempts.

“I think the pressure is the vote,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., one of the early backers of the bill, the Hill reported. “I presume they would have to think very carefully about a veto because it might very well be overriden.”

Twenty-nine Democrats have cosponsored the House bill, called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. The measure is due for vote on Friday – the eve of the 15th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks on U.S. soil.

And it’s one of the few measures that have drawn such clear support from both sides of the political aisles.

“I think the votes will be there to override it,” said Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., the sponsor of the House version of the bill.

Even Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton is on record supporting the bill. But Obama’s opposition has been steadfast, and long-running.

“We have serious concerns with the bill as written,” the White House said in a statement
earlier this week, the latest in the administration’s months-long campaign to boot the bill from Congress, the Hill reported.

The White House went on: “We believe there needs to be more careful consideration of the potential unintended consequences of its enactment before the House considers the legislation. We would welcome opportunities to further engage with the Congress on that discussion.”

Obama spokesman Josh Earnest, meanwhile, said he couldn’t predict with certainty whether a veto attempt was in the works. But, he added, it would be “difficult to imagine a scenario in which the president would sign the bill,” he said.

This is a rare solo stand for Obama, who has usually been able to draw Democratic support for his policies and agendas.

At the same time, it’s not clear why Obama is so staunchly defensive of Saudi Arabia on this point. The White House has seen cooled relations with the kingdom, when compared with previous administrations. Most recently, Saudi was particularly put off by Obama’s insistence to forge a nuclear deal with Iran, calling it a poor deal that threatened the security and stability of the entire region.

An angry kingdom is now threatening to sell billions of dollars worth of U.S. assets if this present bill is passed, saying the move may be necessary in order to protect Saudi assets from court judgments.

Fifteen of the 19 airplane hijackers hailed from Saudi. At the same time, recently declassified congressional findings of the September 11 terror attacks did not draw direct links between senior- level Saudi officials and the take-down of the Twin Towers – meaning, victims’ families who’ve long held the kingdom was at clear fault could have a
tough climb to prove their allegations in court.

Weighing in on the legislation, too, was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton – and his assessment was surprisingly more in line with Obama’s than with bill supporters.

He called the bill “far more likely to harm the United States than bring justice against any sponsor of terrorism,” the Hill reported.

Bolton, along with former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, also said in a joint statement published by the Wall Street Journal: “There is already a law that permits U.S. citizens [the ability] to sue any country our government has designated a state sponsor of terrorism, such as Iran. JASTA, however, does not require a prior U.S. government
designation, bypassing a critical safeguard to allow plaintiffs to get at the Saudis – and also setting a precedent for suits against other countries.”

Still, Obama’s veto would create a public relations nightmare for his administration, no matter the lame duck realities.

Not only is the vote itself heavy on the symbolism, given its attack anniversary date. But an Obama veto attempt would also put the president in the camp of defending the Saudis, and opposing the victims of September 11 terror attacks – challenging optics for a White House that’s also trying to press forward other ambitious policies, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, in the remaining months of administration.