The U.S. Senate voted 97-1 to overturn President Obama’s veto of a bill that would allow victims of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 to sue Saudi Arabia for the role it allegedly played in the attacks on the United States.
Minnesota Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, in a rare display of going against the President, both voted to overturn the veto. This is the first time that the Democrats in the Senate have overridden a veto issued by President Obama in the eight years that he has been president. The only senator to vote against the override was Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada).
The New York Times reported that President Obama vetoed the bill and said that it could be “devastating” to the Department of Defense and its foreign affairs and intelligence committees. In a three-page veto message sent to members of Congress, President Obama said the law would hurt U.S. national security interests and upset long-standing international principles of sovereign immunity and said that the law could encourage other countries to exercise the same rules and give foreign courts jurisdiction over the United States and members of its military.
The law would have amended a 1976 law that protected foreign countries from lawsuits, opening up these countries to litigation if it was found that they were somehow involved in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
Senators Franken and Klobuchar were some of the original sponsors of the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism” bill, with Franken seeing it as a way of finding out more about “exactly what happened and what role the Saudis played in this” if a case goes to court, as reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
USA Today reports that the U.S. House is expected to follow suit by overriding the veto as well.
Saudi Arabia has sent out lobbyists and advocates on Capitol Hill against this legislation, including former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, in order to persuade members to oppose the veto override, noting that the 9/11 Commission had already exonerated the Saudi Arabian government, according to the Star Tribune.
But the 9/11 commission’s narrow finding did not rule out that less senior officials or parts of the Saudi government played a role in the attacks.
Saudi leaders say they may sell billions of dollars in American assets if the bill should pass in order to guard their government against an inundation of potential legal fees. Klobuchar said that if Saudi Arabia did nothing wrong, they should have nothing to fear.
Ash Carter, US Secretary of Defense, sent a letter Monday to Congress saying the bill leaves U.S. military personnel vulnerable to foreign lawsuits, but Franken said he doesn’t believe the law will have that effect because the United States doesn’t commit acts of terror.