Washington: The United States Congress voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to override President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill allowing 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia, the first such rebuke of his eight-year presidency.
The Senate overrode the veto in a 97-1 vote, followed a short time later by the House of Representatives, which knocked it down with a 348-77 vote.
The rare act of bipartisanship was a blow to Obama, who lobbied hard against the bill, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).
The bill grants an exception to the legal principle of sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism on U.S soil, clearing the way for lawsuits seeking damages from the Saudi government.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest called the Senate vote “the single most embarrassing thing” the legislative body has done in decades.
“Ultimately these senators are going to have to answer their own conscience and their constituents as they account for their actions today,” he told reporters.
In a letter to Republican and Democratic Senate leaders, Obama said: “I strongly believe that enacting JASTA into law would be detrimental to US national interests.”
Obama warned of “devastating” consequences for the Pentagon, service members, diplomats, and the intelligence agencies. It would “neither protect Americans from terrorist attacks, nor improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks.”
“The United States relies on principles of immunity to prevent foreign litigants and foreign courts from second-guessing our counterterrorism operations and other actions that we take every day", Obama said.
Obama argued that JASTA could expose U.S companies, troops, and officials to lawsuits if other countries passed reciprocal legislation, and may anger valuable allies.
Obama has issued 12 vetoes during his presidency. None have been overridden until now, a rare feat given Republicans’ longstanding control of Congress.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, opposed the bill and CIA Director John Brennan said JASTA had "grave implications" for national security.
U.S corporations including General Electric Co and Dow Chemical Co also opposed it, as did the European Union and other U.S allies. The JASTA, which is now officially entered the American Law, passed the House and Senate without objections earlier this year.