WASHINGTON – The Senate on Wednesday will kick off Congress’ attempt to override President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill that would allow families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia, according to a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Obama on Friday vetoed the bill, which would allow courts to waive claims to foreign sovereign immunity in cases involving terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, arguing it would set a dangerous precedent.
The administration lobbied heavily against the bill, arguing that if other countries act reciprocally, U.S. diplomatic, military and other officials could be sued abroad over U.S. diplomatic and military actions, such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Supporters of the bill believe they have the votes in both the Senate and House to override the veto, but it could be closer than earlier thought with some lawmakers now vocalizing misgivings about the legislation, which cleared Congress without any dissent, and urging members to back the president’s action. If the override vote is successful in the Senate, the House is expected to vote later in the week.
“We must protect the people we rely on to carry out U.S. policy,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the House Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat, wrote Sunday in a letter to Democrats. “Taking this policy path will end up doing the United States more harm than good.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, sent a similar letter Friday to Republican members, arguing “this bill increases the risk posed to American military and intelligence personnel, diplomats, and others serving in our country (and) around the world.”
In the Senate last week, members of the Armed Services Committee were struggling with similar concerns. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, pressed Defense Secretary Ashton Carter for guidance during a Thursday hearing, explaining that “we need to make a decision probably next week, and I want to understand the full implications of this.”
White House representatives have been meeting with members of Congress, while Saudi Arabia, which argues it is being unfairly singled out and had no connection to the terrorists who carried out the attacks, has stepped up it’s lobbying efforts hiring four new firms in recent weeks.
That represents $245,000 the kingdom has spent on lobbying in the last two weeks of September, which is in addition to the more than $3 million has spent to date this year. The roster of lobbyists includes several influential politicians, such as former Senate Majority Leader Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., former Sen. John Breaux, D-La., Hillary Clinton bundler Al Mottur and Marc Lampkin, a one-time aide to former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Already, several members of Congress who did not object to the bill as it was going through Congress have said they will not vote in favor of the override, over concerns that the measure is too broad. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, said last week that efforts to move ahead with the bill in its current form are “a mistake.”
But Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who also favored more time to renegotiate a less diplomatically controversial compromise with the White House, last week called the override a “fait accompli” if the vote happens this month.
Bill sponsors Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., both expressed confidence following Obama’s veto Friday afternoon that Congress would support the override. On Monday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters he was “inclined to vote to override the president.”
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