House passes bill allowing 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia

 The House of Representatives passed a controversial bill that would allow 9/11 families to sue the Saudi Arabian government for complicity in the 9/11 attacks.  The vote was unanimous.

The Hill:

The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously in May, now heads to President Obama’s desk, where its future is uncertain.

The White House has hinted strongly it will veto the measure. Obama has lobbied fiercely against it, arguing it could both strain relations with Saudi Arabia and lead to retaliatory legislation overseas against U.S. citizens.

But lingering suspicion over Saudi Arabia’s role in the 9/11 attacks and pressure from victims’ families made the bill a popular bipartisan offering on Capitol Hill.

The bill’s popularity puts the president in adelicate position. Supporters are hoping Obama will be leery of expending political capital he desperately needs during the lame-duck session.

The president is hoping lawmakers will pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and a criminal justice reform measure and confirm Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

If Obama does choose to veto the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, supporters believe that they have the two-thirds majority needed to override him — a first during his presidency.

“I think we easily get the two-thirds override if the president should veto,” Sen. Charles Schumer(D-N.Y.), who introduced the bill in the Senate, said when the bill cleared the upper chamber in the spring.

But many on Capitol Hill do not believe that the veto is a done deal. The White House has not issued an official position on the bill and spokesmen have been careful with their language, stopping short of issuing a full veto threat.

“We have serious concerns with the bill as written,” a White House official said Wednesday.

“We believe there needs to be more careful consideration of the potential unintended consequences of its enactment before the House considers the legislation,” the official said. “We would welcome opportunities to further engage with the Congress on that discussion.”

The president has 10 days to either sign or reject the legislation before it becomes law. 

On the surface, the bill is seen as a moral imperative – an imperative that overrides other concerns about Saudi retaliation and the precedent it sets of other nations suing the U.S.

Editor Lifson points out that there has already been retaliation against U.S. companies for actions taken by the U.S. government against European corporations.  He says the tax action against Apple is in retaliation for our treatment of Volkswagen and BP Oil – imposing a huge fine on VW for their emissions scam and a massive fine on BP for the Gulf oil spill. 

Lifson has a point, and we should tread carefully in the future.  But the suits that will follow against the Saudis are not only a moral imperative, but a form of justice that has been denied the families for too long. 

It appears that even if President Obama vetoes this bill, the veto will be overturned rather easily, a two-thirds vote in each chamber being necessary to override.  Unless the White House mounts an all-out lobbying effort in the Senate, the bill will become law.  And perhaps the families will find some closure.