The House of Representatives delivered a staggering blow Wednesday to President Barack Obama when it overrode one of his vetoes for the first time, making the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act the law of the land.
“This is not about embarrassing the White House, it is more about recognizing the will of the people,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R.-N.C.), who voted in favor of the override. The 348-to-77 vote came shortly after the Senate also voted 97-to-1 to override the veto of the JASTA bill. The bill authorizes victims of state-sponsored terrorism to sue foreign countries in U.S. courts.
“I am encouraged to see that both the Senate and the House recognizes what is important to the American people and hopefully the president will understand the sentiment that is out there on Main Street,” Meadows said.
“Obviously, any time you can advocate on behalf of the American people, whether its a veto override or getting a bill passed, it is critical,” he added, concluding, “This was the right thing to do at the right time for the American people.”
Only 15 presidents have completed their terms without a veto override. Congress override George W. Bush four times, William J. Clinton twice and Ronald W. Reagan nine times.
One of the bill’s co-sponsor’s Rep. Stephen Lynch (D.-Mass.) told Breitbart News he was motivated by the stories of the families of the Massachusetts victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Both the planes that hit the World Trade Center towers took off from Boston’s Logan Airport. “Sympathy for the families was a big part of my vote.”
The congressman said another motivation was his discomfort with foreign countries like Saudi Arabia spreading radical forms of Islam and creating problems for the United States and her allies.
“This is one way that we can hold them accountable,” he said.
Lynch said in the early days of preparing the legislation there was an opportunity to address the president’s concerns and keep the bill focused simply on Saudi Arabia.
But, the White House concentrated all its efforts on stopping the override in the Senate, he said. “They didn’t have any success over there that I can see and here they spent very little time working with members and got a better result–I don’t know what that tells you.”
Eddie Bracken, the brother of Lucy Fishman, who died on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center’s second tower during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, told Breitbart News when he heard the news that Congress overrode the president’s veto of JASTA, he was thinking about his little sister.
“She was actually going to take her son in for his first day of school, but her boss said no,” Bracken said.
“Her boss said: ‘If you come in in the morning, you can go in the afternoon,’ but, we know that never happened,” he said.
The Brooklyn native was working at the Javits Center that morning when he heard the news of the first plane hitting a tower. While talking to a co-worker, the two men decided to go outside and take a look. Just as they stepped out, they witnessed the second plane hit the other tower.
“I figured she would be OK, but just to make sure, I started walking downtown to the towers,” he said. “I was walking one way and everyone else was running forward away from it and I’m trying to go see my sister down there.”
When the towers collapsed, Bracken was still 30 blocks away, he said.
“It was surreal. It was like out of the movies,” he said. “I’m just praying that she is OK, you know? It was crazy. People screaming. Full of dust. I didn’t know the towers fell right away because there was such a cloud of smoke and I thought maybe it’s just on fire. Then, when you heard it had fallen, you know, I personally didn’t hear it, crumbling, but everything else from a distance I saw.”
Bracken said he wanted the JASTA to pass because countries like Saudi Arabia are supposed to be our allies, but they actually attack us.
“I knew we had a fight ahead of us,” he said.
“I knew the Saudis had a lot of money and they have a lot of clout,” he said.
Bracken and other family members of the victims worked hard to convince congressmen and senators to pass JASTA and then to override the president, he said.
“Even though some of them wanted to stand with the president, they knew they had to do the right thing,” he said.
One of the few Republicans voting to sustain the veto was Florida’s Rep. David Jolly, who represents the peninsula across from Tampa, home of beach communities of Clearwater and St. Petersburg.
Jolly said, “I think there was some quiet indecision even among those who voted to override the veto.”
The national security concerns were real, he said.
“I don’t think we litigate acts of war in civil court rooms–an act of terrorism is an act of war,” said the Floridian, who is also an attorney.
“This is a much harder issue than how it as been embraced by the politics of a November campaign,” he said. “My preference would have been to postpone the vote until after the election.”
Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke (R.-Mont.) told Breitbart News the override was not a sure thing.
“It was not a foregone conclusion, but it happens so rarely, so from my perspective, the vote just felt good,” he said.
Zinke said part of the override reflects that he and other congressmen felt it was time to stand up for Congress as an institution.
“I wish it was over Obamacare, I wish it was over Dodd-Frank, or one of the fundamental flaws in this administration, but from my perspective, it felt good that the House could rise,” said the retired Navy SEAL.
Upstate New York Republican Rep. John M. Katko told Breitbart News he sensed that everyone in the chamber knew the override was going to happen.
“It was the right thing to do,” he said. “I know the concerns of the White House and I respect their concerns, but there’s an awful lot of people on both sides of the aisle that fell differently.”
Terry Strada, the national chair of the organization fighting for JASTA, 9/11 Families United for Justice Against Terrorism, released a statement after the House override:
We are overwhelmingly grateful that Congress did not let us down. The victims of 9/11 have fought for 15 long years to make sure that those responsible for the senseless murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children, and injuries to thousands others, are held accountable. JASTA becoming law is a tremendous victory toward that effort. 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.