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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Obama vetoes Sept. 11 Saudi bill, sets up showdown with Congress

Fri Sep 23, 2016 | 6:44 PM EDT Obama vetoes Sept. 11 Saudi bill, sets up showdown with Congress U.S. President Barack Obama walks to the the Oval Office of the White House upon his return to Washington from New York, U.S. September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas U.S. President Barack Obama walks to the the Oval Office of the White House upon his return to Washington from New York, U.S. September 21, 2016. Reuters/Yuri Gripas Patricia Zengerle and Roberta Rampton | WASHINGTON President Barack Obama on Friday vetoed legislation allowing families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, which could prompt Congress to overturn his decision with a rare veto override, the first of his presidency. Obama said the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act would hurt U.S. national security and harm important alliances, while shifting crucial terrorism-related issues from policy officials into the hands of the courts. The bill passed the Senate and House of Representatives in reaction to long-running suspicions, denied by Saudi Arabia, that hijackers of the four U.S. jetliners that attacked the United States in 2001 were backed by the Saudi government. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals. Obama said other countries could use the law, known as JASTA, as an excuse to sue U.S. diplomats, members of the military or companies - even for actions of foreign organizations that had received U.S. aid, equipment or training.
"Removing sovereign immunity in U.S. courts from foreign governments that are not designated as state sponsors of terrorism, based solely on allegations that such foreign governments' actions abroad had a connection to terrorism-related injuries on U.S. soil, threatens to undermine these longstanding principles that protect the United States, our forces, and our personnel," Obama said in a statement.
Senator Chuck Schumer, who co-wrote the legislation and has championed it, immediately made clear how difficult it will be for Obama to sustain the veto. Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, issued a statement within moments of receiving the veto, promising that it would be “swiftly and soundly overturned.” He represents New York, home of most of the Sept. 11 victims. Both the Democratic and Republican candidates for president, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, said they would have signed the bill into law if they were in the White House. SOME DOUBTS If two-thirds of the lawmakers in both the Senate and House vote to override, the law would stand, the first such override since he became president in 2009, and possibly the last. Obama leaves office in January. Friday's veto was the twelfth of his presidency. An override has been expected, despite some lawmakers saying they had doubts about the measure. In a letter seen by Reuters on Friday, Republican Representative Mac Thornberry, chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, said he would oppose the override. "My primary concern is that this bill increases the risk posed to American military and intelligence personnel, diplomats and others serving our country around the world," Thornberry wrote in a letter encouraging his fellow Republicans to sustain the veto.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday he thought there were enough votes to override a veto, but had concerns. "I worry about trial lawyers trying to get rich off of this. And I do worry about the precedent," he told reporters.
The "9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism" group, which has pressed Congress to uphold the legislation, called Obama's veto explanation "unconvincing and unsupportable." The Saudi government has lobbied heavily to stop the bill, the European Union has formally opposed it and Gulf States have condemned it. Major U.S. corporations such as General Electric and Dow Chemical have also pressed lawmakers to reconsider. "The bill is not balanced, sets a dangerous precedent, and has real potential to destabilize vital bilateral relationships and the global economy," GE Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who supports the bill. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Grant McCool) ==================== Thu Sep 29, 2016 | 7:04 PM EDT U.S. lawmakers may change September 11 law after rejecting veto 1h ago | 01:35 Aftermath of 9/11, Congress allows lawsuits against Saudi Arabia. U.S. lawmakers may change September 11 law after...X The US Senate 'Unanimous' vote will Bankrupt Saudi Arabia, limit the influence of Backward Wahabbis and cut the Jugular of Barbaric ISIS. View location · Reply Retweet Like Adnan Darwash Adnan Darwash @AdnanDarwash 14h Stabbing Obama in the Back and His Saudi Allies in the Pockets: VeteransToday.com: veteranstoday.com/2016/09/28/us-… View details · Reply Retweet Like Adnan Darwash Adnan Darwash @AdnanDarwash 14h While Obama and Queen of England Are Saddened by Peres Death, Hamas calls for 'Day of Rage' during Peres funeral presstv.com//Detail/2016/0… View details · Reply Retweet Like Adnan Darwash Adnan Darwash @AdnanDarwash 15h Rubbing Salt in Obama's Legacy Wounds: '9/11 bill vote, embarrassment for Obama' presstv.com//Detail/2016/0… View details · Reply Retweet Like By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan | WASHINGTON U.S. lawmakers expressed doubts on Thursday about Sept. 11 legislation they forced on President Barack Obama, saying the new law allowing lawsuits against Saudi Arabia could be narrowed to ease concerns about its effect on Americans abroad. A day after a rare overwhelming rejection of a presidential veto, the first during Obama's eight years in the White House, the Republican leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives opened the door to fixing the law as they blamed the Democratic president for not consulting them adequately. "I do think it is worth further discussing," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, acknowledging that there could be "potential consequences" of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, known as JASTA. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Congress might have to "fix" the legislation to protect U.S. troops in particular. Ryan did not give a time frame, but Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he thought JASTA could be addressed in Congress' "lame-duck" session after the Nov. 8 election. The law grants an exception to the legal principle of sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism on U.S. soil, clearing the way for lawsuits seeking damages from the Saudi government. Riyadh denies longstanding suspicions that it backed the hijackers who attacked the United States in 2001. Sept. 11 families lobbied intensely for the bill, getting it passed by the House days before the 15th anniversary of the 2001 attacks earlier this month after years of effort. "We have to understand the political environment we’re in right now and the tremendous support the 9/11 victims have in the United States," said Robert Jordan, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh is one of Washington's longest-standing and most important allies in the Middle East and part of a U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. SAUDI CONDEMNATION The Saudis lobbied furiously against JASTA, and the Saudi foreign ministry condemned its passage in a statement on Thursday. "The erosion of sovereign immunity will have a negative impact on all nations, including the United States," said the statement, which was carried on state news agency SPA. Still, the new law is not expected to have a lasting effect on the two countries' strategic relationship. Saudi-U.S. ties have endured "multiple times of deep outrage" over 70 years, said Thomas Lippman of the Middle East Institute. "The two countries need each other as much today as they did before the day before yesterday," he said. White House spokesman Josh Earnest mocked lawmakers for shifting "within minutes" from overwhelmingly voting to override Obama's veto to wanting to change the law. "I think what we've seen in the United States Congress is a pretty classic case of rapid onset buyer's remorse," Earnest told a White House briefing. Corker said he had tried to work out a compromise with the White House, but Obama administration officials declined a meeting. Related Coverage Saudi foreign ministry condemns passage of U.S. September 11 law Passage of September 11 lawsuit bill an 'abject embarrassment': White House Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who championed JASTA in the Senate, said he was open to revisiting the legislation. "I'm willing to look at any proposal they make but not any that hurt the families," he said at a news conference. He said he would oppose a suggestion that the measure be narrowed to only apply to the 2001 attacks on Washington and New York. "You know what that does? It tells the Saudis to go ahead and do it again, and we won't punish you," Schumer said. Corker said another suggestion was establishing an international tribunal so experts could determine whether there was culpability. He said the Saudis were been willing to work on a compromise, and denied they had threatened retaliation. Trent Lott, a former Republican Senate Majority Leader now at a Washington law firm lobbying for the Saudis, said attorneys would look carefully at JASTA's language. "I do feel passionately this is a mistake for a variety of reasons, in terms of threats to troops, diplomats, sovereignty, there's serious problems here. Hopefully we can find a way to change the tenor of this," Lott said. (Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Susan Cornwell, David Morgan, Yara Bayoumy, David Alexander and Susan Heavey; editing by Grant McCool and Tom Brown)

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