On Wednesday, Congress overrode President Obama’s veto for a bill that would make it possible for families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for their alleged involvement.
The vote is the first to override one of the President’s vetoes during his tenure in office; he had previously issued twelve, with ten occurring during a Republican majority in Congress.
“We are overwhelmingly grateful that Congress did not let us down,” said Terry Strada, national chair of the 9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism. “We rejoice in this triumph and look forward to our day in court and a time when we may finally get more answers regarding who was truly behind the attacks.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the bill made it through the House of Representatives with a vote of 348-7. This followed a 99-1 vote in the Senate just hours before, the only “no” vote being cast by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
The bill would amend laws to make it possible for U.S. courts to hear cases against foreign states regarding terrorism “It’s very simple. If the Saudis were culpable, they should be held accountable. If they had nothing to do with 9/11, they have nothing to fear,” Schumer said.
Speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday morning, the President called the Senate vote “a political vote.”
“If you’re perceived as voting against 9/11 families right before an election, not surprisingly, that’s a hard vote for people to take. But it would have been the right thing to do.” Obama said, also adding that General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the legislation was a bad idea.
After the bill went through the House, Obama called it a “mistake.”
“What this legislation did is it said if a private citizen believes that having been victimized by terrorism, that another country didn’t do enough to stop one of its citizens, for example, in engaging in terrorism, that they can file a personal lawsuit, a private lawsuit in court,” he said. “And the problem with that is that if we eliminate this notion of sovereign immunity, then our men and women in uniform around the world could potentially start seeing ourselves subject to reciprocal laws.”
Despite some backlash, members of Congress are taking the victory as a good sign. “This rare moment of bipartisanship is a testament to the strength of the 9/11 families,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, one of the bill’s lead authors. “Overriding a presidential veto is something we don’t take lightly, but it was important in this case.”