It has been a day of Friday afternoon surprises: just one hour after Ted Cruz pretended to endorse Donald Trump when he really meant don't vote for Hillary, president Obama denied what all American citizens demanded - and got - after both chambers unanimously passed the Sept 11 law several weeks ago, when he decided to veto the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act bill.
As The Hill reports, Obama on Friday vetoed legislation that would allow families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S courts, setting up a high-stakes showdown with Congress. Obama’s move opens up the possibility that lawmakers could override his veto for the first time with a two-thirds vote in both chambers. Worse, it now appears - with reason - that Obama has now sided not with the US population but with a small minority of Saudi emirs.
Republican and Democratic leaders have said they are committed to holding an override vote, and the bill’s drafters say they have the support to force the bill to become law.
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) unanimously passed through both chambers by voice vote.
But the timing of the president’s veto is designed to erode congressional support for the bill and put off a politically damaging override vote until after the November elections. Obama waited until the very end of the 10-day period he had to issue a veto, hoping to buy time to lobby members of Congress against the measure.
White House officials also hope congressional leaders will leave Washington to hit the campaign trail before trying for an override, kicking a vote to the lame-duck session after the election.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said the upper chamber will remain in session until the veto override vote is done. Under current law, 9/11 victims' families may sue a country designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, such as Iran. JASTA would allow U.S. citizens to sue countries without that designation, including Saudi Arabia.
The measure has touched a political nerve ahead of an election in which terrorism has emerged as a central issue. It has strong bipartisan support and is backed by 9/11 families’ organizations.
Those families have sought damages from Saudi Arabia, since 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001 hailed from that country. Critics have long been accused the Saudi government of directly or indirectly supporting the attacks, though a concrete link has never been proven.
* * *
Obama has strongly opposed the legislation, arguing it would undermine sovereign immunity and open up U.S. diplomats and military service members to legal action overseas if foreign countries pass reciprocal laws.
But most of all, the administration is also wary of angering Saudi Arabia - one of the most generous donors to the Clinton Foundation and an alleged sponsor of Hillary's presidential campaign - which is forcefully lobbying against the measure.