President Obama said that Wednesday’s congressional override of his veto was a “mistake” because the 9/11 relief bill he had vetoed would set a “dangerous precedent” for foreigners to sue the U.S. government.
The bill, formally known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), allows the families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government for reparations.
In a CNN interview, Obama strove to emphasize his sympathy for 9/11 victims. “I understand why it happened. Obviously all of us still carry the scars and trauma of 9/11. Nobody more than this 9/11 generation that has fought on our behalf in the aftermath of 9/11,” he said.
However, he said that “if we eliminate this notion of sovereign immunity, then our men and women in uniform around the world could potentially start seeing ourselves subject to reciprocal laws.”
“The concern that I’ve had has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia per se or my sympathy for 9/11 families,” the President insisted. “It has to do with me not wanting a situation in which we’re suddenly exposed to liabilities for all the work that we’re doing all around the world.”
Obama accused Congress of political cowardice for overriding his veto on a 97-1 vote:
It’s an example of why sometimes you have to do what’s hard. And, frankly, I wish Congress here had done what’s hard.
If you’re perceived as voting against 9/11 families right before an election, not surprisingly, that’s a hard vote for people to take. But it would have been the right thing to do… And it was, you know, basically a political vote.
That seems like a rather harsh dismissal of the Democrats who have marched in near-total lockstep with Obama for the past eight years.
Meanwhile, some voices from the right have supported Obama’s basic stance on the 9/11 bill, including former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and the editors of the Wall Street Journal, who sighed, “Wouldn’t you know that Congress finally challenges President Obama on foreign policy, and it’s in a bad cause that will harm U.S. interests. Too bad the President did so little to stop it.”
The Journal went even further than Obama’s concerns about the loss of sovereign immunity, and certainly much further than Obama’s backhanded criticism of the Democratic caucus as political cowards, suggesting Democrats went along with the bill because it will be a bonanza for trial lawyers:
The law is supposed to help the families of those killed on 9/11 to pursue Saudi Arabia, the ultimate deep-pocket target. Never mind that there is no hard proof the Saudi government was complicit in those attacks. Or that Americans can already sue nations that are officially designated as state sponsors of terror.
This bill has no such limit, so all it takes is a trial lawyer to persuade a judge that a foreign government is liable and we’re off to the races. Lawyers will have endless fun subpoenaing documents and testimony from the U.S. and foreign governments that will complicate American diplomacy and security.
Supporters of the bill rejected any compromise, including language that would limit lawsuits to 9/11 victims, which shows that the real game is to enrich the trial bar. The Saudis may now move to liquidate at least some of their U.S. holdings so they don’t become hostage to lawsuits, and some countries might retaliate against U.S. officials.
The blame is bipartisan. Democrats want another income stream for their trial-lawyer campaign funders, while Republicans stampeded because no one wants to be seen as defending Saudi Arabia in an election year. We hope Republicans appreciate their hapless cynicism. They get the votes to override Mr. Obama for the first time, and it’s on a bill that could help make New York Democrat Chuck Schumer Senate Majority Leader.
The BBC notes Saudi media was, unsurprisingly, critical of the veto override, with pro-government outlets calling JASTA a “law against justice” and “unfair,” while promising Saudi Arabia has “an arsenal of ways to respond.”