“The United States has taken robust and wide-ranging actions to provide justice for the victims of the 9/11 attacks and keep Americans safe, from providing financial compensation for victims and their families to conducting worldwide counterterrorism programs to bringing criminal charges against culpable individuals. I have continued and expanded upon these efforts, both to help victims of terrorism gain justice for the loss and suffering of their loved ones and to protect the United States from future attacks,” Obama said in a Friday afternoon statement.
“The JASTA, however, does not contribute to these goals, does not enhance the safety of Americans from terrorist attacks, and undermines core U.S. interests. For these reasons, I must veto the bill.”
The bill is designed to give survivors and families of those murdered on 9/11 legal standing to sue the Saudi Arabian government in an attempt to bring justice to those who helped fund the terrorists, 15 of the 19 whom were Saudi nationals. Families, many from greater New York City, have fought for years to try to hold them accountable and receive financial compensation.
But Obama — and a number of foreign policy experts in both parties — have concerns about the bill, which they say could undermine sovereign immunity and backfire by letting foreign governments sue or jail U.S. officials because of American policies like drone strikes. It also puts huge strain on America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, a key Middle Eastern ally.
Obama’s veto step sets up a fight in Congress next week — and what could be the first congressional override of an Obama veto of his presidency.
JASTA advocates predicted a quick veto override.
“This is a disappointing decision that will be swiftly and soundly overturned in Congress. I believe both parties will come together next week to make JASTA the law of the land,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who shepherded the bill through the Senate the first time, said in a statement.
“If the Saudis did nothing wrong, they should not fear this legislation. If they were culpable in 9/11, they should be held accountable. The families of the victims of 9/11 deserve their day in court, and justice for those families shouldn’t be thrown overboard because of diplomatic concerns.”
Family members of those who were killed on 9/11 were furious with Obama’s veto, but predicted ultimate victory.
“We are outraged and dismayed at the President’s veto of JASTA and the unconvincing and unsupportable reasons that he offers as explanation. No matter how much the Saudi lobbying and propaganda machine may argue otherwise, JASTA is a narrowly drawn statute that restores longstanding legal principles that have enjoyed bipartisan support for decades,” 9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism said in a statement. “We are deeply grateful for the unanimous bipartisan support that JASTA has in Congress, and we look forward to the Senate and House fulfilling their commitments by quickly overriding this veto.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised a veto override vote before Congress leaves town at the end of next week, and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has indicated he’ll follow suit.
The bill sailed through both houses of Congress with on voice votes, and leaders in both parties think they’ll be able to gather the two thirds support needed in the House and Senate to make the bill law in spite of Obama’s concerns.
Senate leaders are pushing the bill hard, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is one of many senior members of both parties who’s pledged to vote for it. But Democrats in both chambers have expressed increasing concern about it in recent days as the final test for it creeps closer, and it remains unclear whether they’ll mount enough resistance to pose a real threat.
Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) warned Thursday that the bill hadn’t been properly vetted, worrying about “unintended consequences” if it becomes law.
“Things that just pass rapidly by unanimous consent that don’t have the virtue of committee hearing, of looking at it carefully, considering ramifications, considering unintended consequences, all of that, and them boom, it passes. And now we’re getting correspondence from the European Union and many others: ‘Don’t do this.’ So I’m going to take a look at that,” she said.
“I understand the reason for JASTA and I certainly strongly support making sure we don’t use any shields against those who perpetrate terrorism, they should be held accountable. I also understand that this is involved also in foreign relations,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said on Thursday, refusing to say how he would vote until after he heard from the White House.
Obama had said for months that he would block the legislation. But the veto came on the last possibly day after the House passed the legislation earlier this month, just the days before the 15th anniversary of the attacks.