President Barack Obama vetoed a bill passed unanimously by Congress that would help the families of 9/11 victims sue Saudi Arabia for damages, setting up the first veto override of his presidency.
Citing detriment to U.S. interests abroad if the bill is signed into law, Obama said he has “deep sympathy” for the families of those who lost their lives in the attack, but cannot justify approving the bill.
The bill would revise immunity laws currently sheltering Saudis from American lawsuits in U.S. courts, and passed both the House and Senate without a single vote of opposition. But the Obama administration has lobbied vigorously against the bill — infuriating some lawmakers and victims’ families — because of concerns about threats of economic retaliation from Saudi Arabia, and that other countries could change their own immunity laws to the detriment of American interests.
“I have deep sympathy for the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), who have suffered grievously,” he said in a statement. “I also have a deep appreciation of these families’ desire to pursue justice and am strongly committed to assisting them in their efforts.”
“Enacting [the 9/11 bill] into law, however, would neither protect Americans from terrorist attacks nor improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks,” he added, saying: “[The bill] would be detrimental to U.S. national interests more broadly.”
Although some Democrats have expressed readiness to flip their vote when it comes back to Congress, the Senate will almost certainly override the bill.
Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer called Obama’s veto a “disappointing decision,” and said the Senate will “swiftly” vote to override his veto. “If the Saudis did nothing wrong, they should not fear this legislation,” he told Politico Friday. “If they were culpable in 9/11, they should be held accountable.”