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US lawmakers stumble on vetoed Saudi 9/11 bill

Image of US President Barack Obama [Reuters/Jonathan Ernst]
Image of US President Barack Obama [Reuters/Jonathan Ernst]

US lawmakers expressed doubts yesterday about 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, Reuters reported today.

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 amending the law as they blamed Obama for not consulting them adequately.

Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged that there could be “potential consequences” of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).

The law grants an exception to the legal principle of sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism on US soil, clearing the way for lawsuits seeking damages from the Saudi Arabian government. Riyadh vehemently denies that it backed the 9/11 hijackers.

An official US report that was recently unclassified showed that there was no connection between the Saudi government and any of the terrorists who attacked New York’s World Trade Centre in 2001.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Congress might have to “fix” the legislation to protect US 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 in November.

White House mocks congressmen

The delay in enacting the bill in addition to Congress’ stalling in fixing the new law before it is brought into force suggests that congressmen have realised the potential impact the bill may have on US interests abroad.

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.

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.

Corker said another suggestion was establishing an international tribunal so experts could determine whether there was culpability. He said the Saudis were willing to work on a compromise, and denied they had threatened retaliation.

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