Updated at 8:20 p.m. with comments from several sources.
Washington – Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-1st District, are at the forefront of an effort to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that would help the families of the victims of the September 11th attacks sue Saudi Arabia.
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, was approved by the House and Senate by wide margins.
But on Friday, Obama vetoed the bill.
“I have deep sympathy for the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, who have suffered grievously. I also have a deep appreciation of these families’ desire to pursue justice and am strongly committed to assisting them in their efforts,” the president said.
But Obama also said JASTA “threatens to reduce the effectiveness of our response to indications that a foreign government has taken steps outside our borders to provide support for terrorism, by taking such matters out of the hands of national security and foreign policy professionals and placing them in the hands of private litigants and courts.”
Blumenthal said he is confident Congress will override the president’s veto.
“As evidence of Saudi Arabia’s complicity in the 9/11 attacks mounts, Congress will conclude that the loved ones of the victims deserve a fair day in court – simple justice,” Blumenthal said. “Closing this loophole will enable American victims of terrorism to hold accountable foreign governments who arm and finance extremist evil, no matter where they do their aiding and abetting. This veto denies Americans the opportunity to hold those evil extremists accountable through the very system of justice that they tried – and failed – to strike down.”
Blumenthal also dismissed the argument that the legislation would increase the liability of the United States, saying “it fails the test of fact and law.”
Ironically, Donald Trump sided with Connecticut’s Democratic lawmakers.
“President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act is shameful and will go down as one of the low points of his presidency,” Trump said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress and would have allowed the families of the nearly 3,000 people slaughtered by radical Islamic terrorists on September 11, 2001, the opportunity to seek justice in an American court of law.”
Obama’s veto sets up a fight in Congress next week — and what could be the first congressional override of an Obama veto. Even if there are enough votes to override the veto – a two thirds majority of votes in the House and Senate are needed – there may not be enough time.
Congress hopes to recess at the end of the end of next week until after November’s elections.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she would support an override effort. So did House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., but with a little less enthusiasm.
“I do have concerns about it because I worry about legal matters. I worry about trial lawyers trying to get rich off of this. And I do worry about the precedents,” Ryan said.
Meanwhile, Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, R-Texas, the head of the House Armed Services Committee, sent House Republicans a letter Friday saying “as tempting as it may be to override President Obama’s veto for the first time, please take a moment to study the consequences of S. 2040, the ‘Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.’”
Thornberry reminded his GOP colleagues that the bill “quickly passed the House by voice vote without a lengthy discussion.”
“My primary concern is that this bill increases the risk posed to American military and intelligence personnel, diplomats, and others serving our country around the world,” Thornberry wrote. “This bill weakens the protections provided to foreign sovereigns under U.S. law and makes it easier to sue foreign governments and foreign government officials in U.S. courts. In doing so, it takes a major step toward eroding the doctrine of sovereign immunity and will, I believe, result in other countries doing the same to us, putting U.S. personnel at risk.”
Blumenthal, Murphy and DeLauro plan to hold an event Monday with family members of the 9/11 attack victims at the U.S. District Court in Hartford to press for a quick vote on the veto override.