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 GrahamWhite House won't move forward with billions in foreign aid cuts GOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Cindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death 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 announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' 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 Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (R-Texas) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? 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 CardinAmerica is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction Financial aid fraud is wrong — but overcorrection could hurt more students Democrats denounce Trump's attack on Cummings: 'These are not the words of a patriot' MORE (D-Md.), the top members of the Foreign Relations Committee, the letter was signed by Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrailer shows first look at Annette Bening as Dianne Feinstein Trump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program The Hill's Morning Report - More talk on guns; many questions on Epstein's death MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid McCain's family, McCain Institute to promote #ActsOfCivility in marking first anniversary of senator's death MORE (R-Ariz.) and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill What the gun safety debate says about Washington Senators ask for committee vote on 'red flag' bills after shootings 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 HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators 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."