Yesterday, in a historic move, Congress overrode President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill allowing American citizens to sue suspected foreign sponsors of terrorism and other crimes committed on U.S. soil.
It was the first time in Obama’s nearly eight years in office that Congress has defied either a real or threatened veto by the President. That’s the history-making news.
However, in this emotion-filled but logic-deficit presidential campaign, any conflict between two branches of our national government is certain to evoke more drama than deserved.
Whether this helps or hurts one presidential candidate should not be a consideration. I hope pundits and other so-called experts refrain from making it seem a calculated move for political benefit.
Representatives of both parties on Capitol Hill joined in a rare bipartisan moment to rebuff the President. Democrat Minority Leader Harry Reid was the lone dissident in the Senate’s 97-1 vote against the veto. But Reid, so unpopular in his home state of Nevada that he chose to retire at the end of his term, obviously was willing to act against public sentiment.
The House voted 348-77 with 123 Democrats joining 225 Republicans to support the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act as the measure is called.
Introduced last year by Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, the 126-word bill amends federal law to allow American courts to hear claims against foreign entities for their alleged role in damage, injuries or death within U.S. borders.
The White House criticized the override vote as “…the most embarrassing thing the Senate has done since 1983.”
That was an apparent reference to an equally large vote rejecting the Reagan administration’s act granting the Interior Department powers over certain lands in Oregon.
Good or bad?
Yesterday’s congressional override was recognition of the lingering anger and depression among the families who lost loved ones during the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and feel powerless to seek retribution.
Many media have framed this as opening the door to individuals to sue Saudi Arabia for its suspected role in the attack. But the wording of the measure expands the number of potential targets far beyond the Riyadh government. This troubles the White House.
Emotionally my heart goes out to the victims of 9/11. I cannot imagine the pain and helplessness they bear sixteen years after the terrible events of that day. I, too, want them to receive justice.
But logic tempers my sympathy. The Obama administration fears possible retaliation from Saudi Arabia and other nations that now risk being called into American courts to answer for a score of other possible sins against U.S. citizens.
I think the administration’s concern is legitimate.
Yes, the 9/11 families deserve justice. Yes, they should be able to seek retribution against perceived sponsors of terrorism. But I don’t think the U.S. government should be a co-litigant in such legal action.
By overriding President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, Congress has granted American victims of foreign crimes on U.S. soil an opportunity to fight back. At the same time, Capitol Hill has made it much harder for future presidents to conduct foreign policy.