It is the first presidential veto override during Obama’s time in office.
The House voted overwhelming to overturn Obama’s veto of Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which allows the families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government for its alleged involvement in the attacks.
The House voted 348-77 with one present vote. Earlier on Wednesday, the Senate voted 97-1 to override the veto.
Now that both houses of Congress have acted, the bill will become law, making this the first presidential veto overturned during Obama’s time in office.
The White House has argued that the bill could create a precedent wherein other countries are allowed to sue the United States for its actions abroad. In a letter Obama sent to Senate leaders on Tuesday, he wrote that the bill could affect existing sovereign immunity principles that prevent non-US citizens “from second-guessing our counterterrorism operations and other actions that we take every day.”
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter voiced his own concerns in a separate letter, arguing that placing US interests in the hands of foreign courts in the event of a lawsuit could put national security at risk.
“Disclosure could put the United States in the difficult position of choosing between disclosing classified or otherwise sensitive information or suffering adverse rulings and potentially large damage awards for our refusal to do so,” he wrote.
Riyadh has also publicly opposed the legislation.
Congressional lawmakers argue, however, that the bill could allow the families of victims to seek
justice and closure for the atrocities that occurred in 15 years ago. “This bill is about respecting the voices and rights of American victims,” said Texas Senator John Cornyn.
Maryland Senator Ben Cardin said that “the risks of shielding the perpetrators of terrorism from justice are greater than the risks this legislation may pose to America’s presence around the world.”
Speaking to Sputnik Persian on Tuesday, Mosiba Na’imi, General Director of the Iranian Arabic-language newspaper Al-Wafa, said that the debate over the bill shows the indifference of US authorities toward their constituents.
“The Americans themselves know very well that the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 were done by Saudi Arabia. The people behind this terrorist act are known, so the fact that the Americans relented and offered some concessions regarding this issue show how the United States is indifferent to its own nationals,” he said.
Notable lawmakers who abstained from voting on Wednesday include former presidential hopeful and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine.