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GOP leaders express reservations a day after 9/11 veto override

GOP leaders express reservations a day after 9/11 veto override
© Greg Nash

A day after the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to override President Obama's veto, GOP leaders are expressing reservations about legislation that would allow lawsuits related to 9/11 to go forward against Saudi Arabia.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller The Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanA warning to Ryan’s successor: The Speakership is no cakewalk Republicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Wis.) both said they were open to discussions about changing the bill, which Congress approved unanimously.

"I do think it's worth further discussions, but it was certainly not something that was going to be fixed this week," McConnell told reporters on Thursday.

McConnell also criticized the lack of a discussion about "the potential consequences" of a very "popular bill."

Ryan agreed that Congress may need to "fix" the legislation but said he wasn't sure when that would happen.

"We want to make sure the 9/11 victims and their families have their day in court," Ryan told reporters. "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."

The legislation, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), became law after the Senate and House voted to override Obama for the first time in his presidency. In the Senate, the vote was 97-1.

The bill was backed by Democratic leaders in Congress and had the powerful support of families of the 9/11 victims. 

Saudi Arabia's government pressed Congress and the administration to oppose the bill, and the White House argued it could have negative repercussions on U.S. citizens and companies who could be subject to suits over U.S. government actions. 

Signs that many members of Congress weren't comfortable with the vote emerged almost immediately.

Twenty-eight senators sent a letter to Sens. John CornynJohn CornynRepublicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes MORE (R-Texas) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThrowing some cold water on all of the Korean summit optimism House Republicans push Mulvaney, Trump to rescind Gateway funds Congress should build on the momentum from spending bill MORE (D-N.Y.) expressing concerns about the measure in the hope that the two senators, who spearheaded it, would be willing to amend the law in the future.  

"We would hope to work with you in a constructive manner to appropriately mitigate those unintended consequences," the senators wrote.

The White House on Thursday accused lawmakers of experiencing buyers remorse.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest called it “an abject embarrassment” that members are considering potential changes to the measure so soon after its passage.

“I think what we’ve seen in the United States Congress is a case of rapid-onset buyer's remorse," he said.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRepublicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller Rand Paul under pressure as Pompeo hunts for votes Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination MORE (R-S.C.) said Wednesday that he would like the Senate to take up changes to JASTA as early as the lame-duck session. The Senate is leaving town Thursday until after the November elections.  

"There's a desire to amend what occurred yesterday to put us in a better place,” said Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerDemocrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo Judge blocks Trump administration from transferring unnamed enemy combatant Rand Paul under pressure as Pompeo hunts for votes MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Schumer told reporters Thursday that he was open to looking at potential changes but “not any that hurt the families." 

Cornyn said Thursday that he and Schumer worked with the State Department and lawmakers, including Corker and Graham, to make changes to the legislation that addressed concerns before the Senate initially passed the bill in May. 

A Cornyn aide — noting that lawmakers dropped their holds on the bill after the changes — said a provision was added 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 at the request of Graham would strengthen 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." 
 
 Scott Wong and Mike Lillis contributed.