The White House lashed out at the Senate Wednesday for overriding President Obama’s veto of legislation that would allow U.S. citizens to sue Saudi Arabia over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“I would venture to say that this is the single most embarrassing thing that the United States Senate has done, possibly, since 1983,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Earnest was responding to a reporter who told him Wednesday’s vote was the most overwhelming since a 95-0 veto override vote in 1983. In that year, the Senate overrode President Ronald Reagan’s veto of a land bill to give a few acres to six retired couples who paid for it, but later learned that it was still government property because of a surveying error.
The Senate voted 97-1 Wednesday to override Obama’s veto and the House is expected to hold its override vote on Wednesday afternoon, which is expected to pass by a wide margin. It will be the first time Congress successfully negates Obama's veto.
The vote was a major blow to Obama, prompting questions about his diminishing sway over Capitol Hill and foreign policy months before he leaves office.
Earnest’s unusually harsh words are an effort to shame lawmakers for their support for the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which passed unanimously through both chambers earlier this year.
For weeks, White House officials have accused members of Congress of failing to publicly express the reservations about the measure that they have spoken about privately.
Earnest seized on comments made by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerBob CorkerA guide to the committees: Senate Republicans play clean up on Trump's foreign policy GOP Congress unnerved by Trump bumps MORE (R-Tenn.), who told reporters that Judiciary Committee members didn’t pay much attention to the legislation until it came to the floor.
Corker suggested senators backed the measure because no one wanted to break with 9/11 victims and their families who support the measure.
“To have members of the United States Senate only recently informed of the negative impact of this bill on our service members and on our diplomats is in itself embarrassing,” Earnest said.
“For those senators then to move forward on overriding the president’s veto that would prevent those negative consequences is an abdication of their basic responsibilities of representatives of the American people.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidHopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs If Gorsuch pick leads to 'crisis,' Dems should look in mirror first Senate confirms Mulvaney to be Trump’s budget chief MORE (D-Nev.) was the sole vote to sustain Obama’s veto. Not a single Democrat came to the Senate floor before the vote to argue in favor of Obama’s position.
Obama expressed grave concerns about the measure in his veto message last Friday, warning JASTA would improperly involve U.S. courts in national security matters, including whether foreign governments should be considered state sponsors of terror.
He also said it would undermine the concept of sovereign immunity, putting American diplomats, military service members and government assets abroad at risk of legal action, should other countries pass reciprocal laws.
The White House is also wary of angering the Saudi government, which strongly opposes the bill. The U.S.-Saudi alliance has been tested under Obama’s watch, especially by last year’s nuclear deal with Iran.
But the president’s strong objections fell on deaf ears in Congress, though Obama personally convinced Reid to sustain his veto after a phone conversation and letter.
But no other lawmakers were swayed by appeals from the president, his staff or representatives of the Saudi government, which lobbied against the bill.
Corker told reporters that Obama put virtually no effort into persuading lawmakers to sustain his veto.
“Hopefully, these senators are going to have to answer their own conscience and their constituents as they account for their actions today,” Earnest said.
Updated 1:58 p.m.