GOP senators want to amend Saudi 9/11 bill
© Greg Nash
 
The two Republican lawmakers said Wednesday they want to change the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which sailed through Congress, so lawsuits can only be brought against foreign governments that "knowingly" support terrorism. 
 
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"We're asking we put a caveat to the law that just passed. Saying you can bring a lawsuit ... if they knowingly engage with a terrorist organization, directly or indirectly, including financing," Graham said. 
 
The 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism quickly slammed the GOP proposal, arguing it would gut JASTA and noting it comes after Saudi Arabia has stepped up its lobbying efforts. 
 
Terry Strada, the national chair for the group, said Graham is "stabbing the 9/11 families in the back."  
 
"He and Senator McCain are seeking to torpedo JASTA by imposing changes demanded by Saudi Arabia's lobbyists. We have reviewed the language, and it is an absolute betrayal," she said. 
 
She added that based on Trump’s rhetoric on the issue "there is zero risk that he will support this kind of backroom backstabbing of the 9/11 families."
 
The two senators are hoping to squeak the changes through Congress as lawmakers sprint toward a mid-December wrap up. But if they're unsuccessful, Graham said they would introduce legislation next year. 
 
Congress nixed an Obama veto for the first time in late September, with the override easily passing the Senate in a 97-1 vote. Both McCain and Graham voted to override Obama's veto of JASTA. Retiring Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidVirginia was a wave election, but without real change, the tide will turn again Top Lobbyists 2017: Grass roots Boehner confronted Reid after criticism from Senate floor MORE (D-Nev.) was the only senator to support the veto. 
 
But lawmakers in both parties voiced concerns about the bill in the lead up to the vote, and GOP leaders opened the door a day after the override to making changes to JASTA. 
 
Both Graham and McCain stressed that they weren't trying to block the 9/11 families from suing, but were concerned that without changes other countries would take retaliatory measures against the United States. 
 
"If we don't make this change, here's what I fear: That other countries will pass laws like this, and they will say that the United States is liable for engaging in drone attacks ... other activity in the war on terror and haul us into court," Graham said. 
 
McCain added that without changes, lawmakers will "invoke the law of unintended consequences" and that JASTA played into larger doubts Middle Eastern allies have about the United States.  
 
He added that under JASTA, countries that have investments in the United States and think they are going to be sued could withdraw the assets to avoid the U.S. government potentially freezing them. 
 
"We know that some of those who committed the attacks on 9/11 were Saudi citizens, but that does not necessarily mean that the Saudi government is responsible for the actions of terrorists. Unfortunately, [JASTA] does not define that," he said. 
 
It's unclear if McCain and Graham would be able to get the support needed to change JASTA, which President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump Right way and wrong way Five things to know about the elephant trophies controversy MORE endorsed during the campaign. 
 
Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJuan Williams: The politics of impeachment Texas Republicans slam White House over disaster relief request Dem rep: Trump disaster aid request is 'how you let America down again' MORE (D-N.Y.) signaled earlier this year that he was open to talks, but Matt House, a spokesman for the incoming top Senate Democrat, said he hasn't talked to Graham or McCain. 
 
 
Changes were made to JASTA before it passed the Senate including adding a provision that allows the U.S. government to pause a lawsuit against another country if the State Department verifies the administration "is engaged in good faith discussions" about resolving the dispute. 
 
Another change made to JASTA strengthened requirements that a potential defendant must be able to prove that a foreign government's actions were "more than negligent, i.e. reckless or intentional."
 
A congressional aide familiar with the language dismissed the changes, characterizing them "as a giveaway to K Street lobbyists and Saudis." 
 
In the wake of the JASTA fight, Saudi Arabia expanded its lobbying efforts to include contracts with 14 lobbying shops. 
 
But McCain called the changes the two senators are proposing as "modest." 
 
"I think that logically, that you should not pursue or prosecute a government that did not knowingly ... stand by and assist a terrorist groups," he said. "That they should not be dragged into courts."