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 GrahamRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Graham invites Giuliani to testify about recent Ukraine trip 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 CorkerRNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing 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 CornynTrump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn On The Money: Trump, China announce 'Phase One' trade deal | Supreme Court takes up fight over Trump financial records | House panel schedules hearing, vote on new NAFTA deal On The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA MORE (R-Texas) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTurf war derails bipartisan push on surprise medical bills Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA CEO group pushes Trump, Congress on paid family, medical leave 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 CardinDemocrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism The Secure Act makes critical reforms to our retirement system — let's pass it this year Lawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death MORE (D-Md.), the top members of the Foreign Relations Committee, the letter was signed by Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSanders revokes congressional endorsement for Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur Sanders endorses Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur for Katie Hill's former House seat Houston police chief stands by criticism of McConnell, Cruz, Cornyn: 'This is not political' MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay Budowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? MORE (R-Ariz.) and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedGabbard calls for congressional inquiry over Afghanistan war report Gillibrand demands hearing following release of 'Afghanistan Papers' Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members 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 HatchKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals 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."