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.  

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - All eyes on Florida as daily COVID-19 cases hit 15K Democrats see immigration reform as topping Biden agenda Graham says he will call Mueller to testify before Senate panel about Russia probe 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 CorkerCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism 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 CornynThe Hill's Campaign Report: Runoff elections in Texas, Alabama set for Tuesday Overnight Health Care: White House goes public with attacks on Fauci | Newsom orders California to shut down indoor activities, all bar operations | Federal judges block abortion ban laws in Tennessee, Georgia Trump administration extends support for Texas COVID-19 testing sites MORE (R-Texas) and Charles SchumerChuck SchumerWells Fargo told employees to delete TikTok from work phones Democrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' A renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government 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 CardinCongress eyes tighter restrictions on next round of small business help Senate passes extension of application deadline for PPP small-business loans 1,700 troops will support Trump 'Salute to America' celebrations July 4: Pentagon MORE (D-Md.), the top members of the Foreign Relations Committee, the letter was signed by Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGraham says he will call Mueller to testify before Senate panel about Russia probe Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Bottom line MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain's reset: US-Vietnam relations going strong after 25 years Senate outlook slides for GOP Juan Williams: Time for boldness from Biden MORE (R-Ariz.) and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Chris Christie says Trump team wasn't aggressive enough early in COVID-19 crisis; Tensions between White House, Fauci boil over Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Sunday shows - FDA commissioner declines to confirm Trump claim that 99 percent of COVID-19 cases are 'harmless' 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 HatchMellman: Roberts rescues the right? DACA remains in place, but Dreamers still in limbo Bottom line 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."