Senators already eyeing changes to 9/11 bill after veto override
© Greg Nash

With Congress overriding President Obama for the first time, lawmakers in both parties are already eyeing changes to the law at the heart of the showdown.  

The Senate voted 97-1 to override the president's veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), but a bipartisan group of senators indicated Wednesday that they remain concerned about potential retaliation against Americans.  

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Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Dems look for traction following Barr-Mueller findings Senate GOP eyes probes into 2016 issues 'swept under the rug' Top Senate Judiciary Dem asks Barr to hand over full Mueller report by April 1 MORE (R-S.C.) said lawmakers need to make sure they didn't open "Pandora's box" and reassure Saudi Arabia that Congress isn't "finding them guilty of 9/11." 

"I think the things we can do that would preserve the right to sue here in America ... but also minimize the exposure we have overseas," he added. "We need to think hard about how to modify this bill." 

Graham, who supported the veto override, estimated that approximately 20 senators currently support changing the bill, something he thinks could happen as soon as the end-of-year lame-duck session.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump keeps tight grip on GOP Brexit and exit: A transatlantic comparison Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (R-Tenn.), who also supported the veto override, said he agrees that 9/11 families deserve an "outlet" and has had talks with "people in Europe about a tribunal being set up."

"I think most senators felt like the best way to try to influence that over time was to go ahead and acknowledge that the victims need an outlet," he said. "[But] there are concerns. ... I think there's a desire to get this into a better place."

But senators would likely face an uphill battle, with the legislation easily passing through Congress unanimously earlier this year. Graham said he's had "brief" conversations with Sens. John CornynJohn CornynConservatives wage assault on Mueller report Senate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks GOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 MORE (R-Texas) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis Schumer4 in 5 Americans say they support net neutrality: poll GOP senator: Trump's criticism of McCain 'deplorable' Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar MORE (D-N.Y.), who spearheaded JASTA.

Cornyn, however, downplayed the chances of tweaks to the legislation passing Congress.

"I'll talk to anybody," he told reporters. "But I can't imagine what those [changes] would be."

Twenty-eight senators, including Graham, sent a letter to Cornyn and Schumer on Wednesday saying that "concerns have been raised regarding potential unintended consequences."

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

In addition to Corker and Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinWarren, Klobuchar call on FTC to curtail use of non-compete clauses Overnight Energy: EPA moves to raise ethanol levels in gasoline | Dems look to counter White House climate council | Zinke cleared of allegations tied to special election Democrats offer legislation to counter White House climate science council MORE (D-Md.), the top members of the Foreign Relations Committee, the letter was signed by Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Dems look for traction following Barr-Mueller findings Senate GOP eyes probes into 2016 issues 'swept under the rug' Top Senate Judiciary Dem asks Barr to hand over full Mueller report by April 1 MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSenate GOP eyes probes into 2016 issues 'swept under the rug' Gallego won't seek Ariz. Senate seat, clearing Dem path for Kelly Khizr Khan blasts Trump's McCain attacks: 'How dare this Russian-tainted president disrespects our hero' MORE (R-Ariz.) and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedThis week: Congress set for next stage of Mueller probe fight Overnight Defense: Top Marine warns border deployment could hurt readiness | McSally aims for sexual assault reforms in defense bill | House to vote on measure opposing transgender ban | New warning over F-35 sale to Turkey Marine Corps commander: Using troops at southern border an 'unacceptable risk' to readiness MORE (D-R.I.), the top members of the Armed Services Committee.

Cardin, while announcing his support for the veto override Wednesday, stressed that he would work with colleagues on potential changes.

"I intent to explore with my colleagues the possibility of whether we need or will need additional legislative action," he said. "Such additional legislation would allow justice for the family members of victims of the 9/11 attack while ameliorating some of the potential adverse consequences of JASTA." 

Though the Senate overwhelmingly nixed the president's veto, a handful of lawmakers publicly expressed skepticism about the bill in the days leading up to Wednesday's vote. Lawmakers, however, argue their push to try to find an alternative before the vote was largely ignored by the Obama administration. 

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchThis week: Congress set for next stage of Mueller probe fight NY's political prosecution of Manafort should scare us all Congress must break its addiction to unjust tax extenders MORE (R-Utah), who said he hasn't heard from the White House, said the legislation turned into a "political issue."

"I don't think we had enough time to consider all of the ramifications," Hatch, who is a co-sponsor of the original bill, said Tuesday. "I'm worried about getting into a tremendous legal morass that could really cost this country."