Following Saudi threats to destabilize the financial system if the US were to enact a Bill that would allow an investigation into Saudi Arabia's support of September 11 terrorist attacks, many were watching closely how Obama would react. The president made it clear last night when as CNN reports, the White House threatened to veto the bipartisan bill to let families victimized by the 9/11 terrorist attacks sue Saudi Arabia while a GOP senator privately sought to block the measure.
The White House and State Department are bluntly warning lawmakers not to proceed with the legislation due to "fears" it could have dramatic ramifications for the United States and citizens living abroad to retaliatory lawsuits.
The President lands in Riyadh Wednesday for talks with Saudi Arabia over ISIS and Iran at a time of strained relations between the countries, making the bill's timing that much more sensitive.
The move comes as presidential candidates from both parties are seizing on the legislation to score points with New York voters ahead of Tuesday's critical primary there.
As reported over the weekend, one of the biggest supporters of the bill is none other than New York democrat Chuck Schumer, the likely next Senate Democratic leader, who has found himself pitted squarely against the Obama administration.
As CNN adds, the stepped-up lobbying against the legislation comes as it faces fresh roadblocks on Capitol Hill, with party leaders learning that a GOP senator is objecting to taking up the bill, according to a source familiar with the legislation. The senator's identity has not yet been revealed publicly.
Proponents of the measure, for their part, are intensifying their pressure campaign.
"If Saudi Arabia participated in terrorism, of course they should be able to be sued," Schumer said Monday. "This bill would allow a suit to go forward and victims of terrorism to go to court to determine if the Saudi government participated in terrorist acts. If the Saudis did, they should pay a price."
Obama, however, disagrees for whatever reasons.
As we reported yesterday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest fired back, warning that it would jeopardize international sovereignty and put the U.S. at "significant risk" if other countries adopted a similar law. "It's difficult to imagine a scenario where the President would sign it," Earnest said.
And that's the problem because to most Americans it is incomprehensible why Obama would roadblock something that is so critical to getting to the bottom of the worst terrorist attack on US soil.
As a reminder, the proposed Bipartisan Bill, which Schumer and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas are pushing, would prevent Saudi Arabia and other countries alleged to have terrorist ties from invoking their sovereign immunity in federal court.
Saudi Arabia has long denied any role in the 9/11 attacks, but victims' families have repeatedly sought to bring the matter to court, only to be rebuffed after the country has invoked legal immunity allowed under current law. However, as the White House itself admitted yesterday, it was the Saudis who were the source of Al Qaeda's seed funding.
"It makes minor adjustments to our laws that would clarify the ability of Americans attacked on U.S. soil to get justice from those who have sponsored that terrorist attack," Cornyn said of the bill, which is entitled the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.
Not Just Obama
It's not just Obama who is holding back the Bill: a GOP senator is privately holding up the bill, an obstacle that would require Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to file time-consuming procedural motions to move past. He would need 60 votes to overcome the objection, but it is uncertain whether he will move on the measure before his colleague's issues are ironed out. Not surprisingly, the objector has yet to step up: "no senator has yet claimed responsibility for privately voicing the objection."
Under the rules of the Senate, any one senator can privately inform his or her party leadership of plans to place a "hold" to block legislation. His or her name would not become public unless a senator took to the Senate floor and tried to advance the bill, forcing the opponent to object. That scenario has not yet occurred as negotiations to find a way forward continue behind the scenes. Cornyn said that while several senators originally had placed holds on the measure, they had all relented save one.
Cornyn added that "part of the concern is that somehow this is a thumb in the eye to Saudi Arabia, a valuable ally," he said. So because it is a valuable ally its support of terrorism on US soil should be ignored.
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While Saudi Arabia has not been directly and officially implicated in the 9/11 attacks - yet - 15 of the 19 hijackers were of Saudi descent. Moreover, there has long been suspicion about ties between the royal family of Saudi Arabia to al Qaeda, speculation that has only intensified as 28 pages of a congressional investigation into the 9/11 attacks remains classified. As pressure grows on Congress to let 9/11 victims' families pursue their claims against Saudi Arabia in federal court, Saudi officials are quickly pushing back.
Following the Saudi threat to dump its US denominated assets, including billions in US Treasurys, Cornyn was quick to dismiss the threat: "It's seems overly defensive to me and I doubt they can do it," he said in response. "I don't think we should let foreign countries dictate the domestic policy of the United States so, no, it doesn't bother me at all."
Presidential Candidates Get On The Action
Presidential candidates were also unmoved. Ahead of the New York primary, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders voiced muted support to align themselves with the Cornyn-Schumer bill. Or rather Bernie did: Hillary appears to be on the fence, and while she said in a Sunday appearance on ABC that she had to study the bill and would not take a position, a spokesman later said she backs the bill.
Sanders, in a statement Sunday night, announced that he supports the bill and called on the Obama administration to declassify the 28 pages of the 9/11 report that could implicate Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, Trump evinced no concern about Saudi Arabia's threat to sell off U.S. assets. "Let 'em sell 'em," Trump said. "No big deal."
Trump added: "Hey, look, we protect Saudi Arabia. We protect them for peanuts. If we weren't protecting them, they wouldn't be there for a week."
However, for now just one person's opinion matters: the one shown on the left.