The Senate voted to override President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill to help 9/11 victims’ families Wednesday, in a stinging rebuke opposed only by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
The 97-1 vote marks the first Senate veto override of Obama’s presidency, and comes on the heels of the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It’s a victory for congressional Republicans who tried unsuccessfully to challenge Obama on 10 other vetoes issued while they held the majority in both houses.
The bill will revise immunity laws sheltering Saudis from American lawsuits, making it possible at last for the families of 9/11 victims to get justice in U.S. courts. Both the House and Senate passed the bill unanimously earlier this year, and the House is expected to finalize the veto override in an impending vote.
Obama vetoed the bill last week, saying he’s concerned about threats of economic retaliation from Saudi Arabia and the possibility other countries could change their own immunity laws in a way that would hurt American interests. (RELATED: Obama’s Vigorous Opposition To 9/11 Bill Infuriates Victims’ Families)
The Saudi foreign minister personally visited Washington last month and told lawmakers Saudi Arabia would be forced to sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets if the law passes, because of the potential for U.S. courts to freeze the assets on behalf of 9/11 families. And Secretary of State John Kerry has warned the bill would expose the U.S. to lawsuits abroad that would “take away our sovereign immunity and create a terrible precedent.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan and other supporters of the bill have voiced similar concerns, but say the need for the victims’ families to get justice outweighs the risks. “I worry about legal matters,” Ryan told reporters ahead of the veto override vote. “I worry about trial lawyers trying to get rich off of this. And I do worry about precedence. At the same time, these victims need to have their day in court.”
Economists have pointed out the unlikelihood of Saudi Arabia following through on the threat to dump U.S. assets, because its own currency would suffer from the resulting economic turmoil since it is tied to the dollar, and because it would be very hard to pull off on such a large scale.
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