Buyer’s remorse is the last headline citizens want to see regarding legislative actions, but that’s exactly what Congress is currently struggling with.
JASTA, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, received overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. This is not surprising most political pundits suggest, because of the patriotic themes involved. According to congress.gov, this legislation would allow families of the victims of 9/11, and future victims of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil to sue countries and their officials who had any part in the planning and/or carrying out of the attacks.
In particular, JASTA would allow litigation against Saudi Arabia, a key ally of the United States in the Middle East, as well as the country some still believe to be culpable in the events of September 11th because 15 Saudi nationals were hijackers. This belief is held despite the findings of the 9-11 Commission Report, an “independent, bipartisan commission” chartered by President Bush in late 2002 that found the country had no part in the attacks, according to the commission’s official website (9-11commission.gov).
Nonetheless, JASTA received a 97-1 vote in the Senate, and a 348-77 vote in the House to effectively override President Obama’s executive veto. Now after the fact, major figures in Congress are unsure they made the right decision.
“We want to make sure the 9/11 victims and their families had their day in court,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters at thehill.com. “At the same time, I would like to think that there may be some work to be done to protect our service members overseas from any kind of legal ensnarements that occur, any kind of retribution.”
According to politico.com, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “Everybody was aware of who the potential beneficiaries were but no one had really focused on the potential downside in terms of our international relationships. And I think it was just a ball dropped. I hate to blame everything on [Obama] and I don’t, [but] it would have been helpful if we had a discussion about this much earlier than the last week.”
I mean, if you think JASTA is good legislation, then by all means vote for it and vote for the override! But don’t blame POTUS for it.
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) September 30, 2016
Contrary to what McConnell claimed, the White House has spoken about the ill consequences of the bill long before last week.
When White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about JASTA July 15, 2016 in a press briefing, he had a lengthy response outlining the President’s misgivings about the bill:
“Again, based on the analysis that’s been conducted by our lawyers here in the U.S. government, the way that this law is written could open up U.S. companies and even potentially U.S. personnel to vulnerabilities when they’re engaged in actions or doing business or conducting official government work overseas.
There is an important principle related to sovereign immunity. And when you’re the most powerful country in the world, you’re invested in the idea of sovereign immunity, given how deeply the United States is involved in so many other countries. So we believe that’s a principle worth protecting. And that is the concern that we have with this legislation, at least the way that the most recent draft was put forward.”
What an incredible lack of courage and integrity that Republicans are now blaming @POTUS for their decision to override HIS veto! #JASTA
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) September 30, 2016
So how did this happen? Why exactly did Congress act so rashly and sponsor a bill that could be extremely detrimental to the nation’s interactions abroad? President Obama seems to know.
At a CNN town hall, the President had this to say: “If you’re perceived as voting against 9/11 families right before an election, not surprisingly, that’s a hard vote for people to take. But it would have been the right thing to do.”