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GOP Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, Chris Christie battle over Fox News Trump's attacks on McConnell seen as prelude to 2024 White House bid MORE (Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Biden move to tap oil reserves draws GOP pushback MORE (S.C.) are rolling out an amendment to a law allowing the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. court.
The two Republican lawmakers said Wednesday they want to change the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which sailed through Congress, so lawsuits can only be brought against foreign governments that "knowingly" support terrorism.
"We're asking we put a caveat to the law that just passed. Saying you can bring a lawsuit ... if they knowingly engage with a terrorist organization, directly or indirectly, including financing," Graham said.
The 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism quickly slammed the GOP proposal, arguing it would gut JASTA and noting it comes after Saudi Arabia has stepped up its lobbying efforts.
Terry Strada, the national chair for the group, said Graham is "stabbing the 9/11 families in the back."
"He and Senator McCain are seeking to torpedo JASTA by imposing changes demanded by Saudi Arabia's lobbyists. We have reviewed the language, and it is an absolute betrayal," she said.
She added that based on Trump’s rhetoric on the issue "there is zero risk that he will support this kind of backroom backstabbing of the 9/11 families."
The two senators are hoping to squeak the changes through Congress as lawmakers sprint toward a mid-December wrap up. But if they're unsuccessful, Graham said they would introduce legislation next year.
Congress nixed an Obama veto for the first time in late September, with the override easily passing the Senate in a 97-1 vote. Both McCain and Graham voted to override Obama's veto of JASTA. Retiring Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom line Voters need to feel the benefit, not just hear the message Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama MORE (D-Nev.) was the only senator to support the veto.
But lawmakers in both parties voiced concerns about the bill in the lead up to the vote, and GOP leaders opened the door a day after the override to making changes to JASTA.
Both Graham and McCain stressed that they weren't trying to block the 9/11 families from suing, but were concerned that without changes other countries would take retaliatory measures against the United States.
"If we don't make this change, here's what I fear: That other countries will pass laws like this, and they will say that the United States is liable for engaging in drone attacks ... other activity in the war on terror and haul us into court," Graham said.
McCain added that without changes, lawmakers will "invoke the law of unintended consequences" and that JASTA played into larger doubts Middle Eastern allies have about the United States.
He added that under JASTA, countries that have investments in the United States and think they are going to be sued could withdraw the assets to avoid the U.S. government potentially freezing them.
"We know that some of those who committed the attacks on 9/11 were Saudi citizens, but that does not necessarily mean that the Saudi government is responsible for the actions of terrorists. Unfortunately, [JASTA] does not define that," he said.
It's unclear if McCain and Graham would be able to get the support needed to change JASTA, which President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBaldwin calls Trump criticism following 'Rust' shooting 'surreal' Haley hits the stump in South Carolina Mary Trump files to dismiss Trump's lawsuit over NYT tax story MORE endorsed during the campaign.
Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerProgressive groups urge Schumer to prevent further cuts to T plan Collins says she supports legislation putting Roe v. Wade protections into law Biden should seek some ideological diversity MORE (D-N.Y.) signaled earlier this year that he was open to talks, but Matt House, a spokesman for the incoming top Senate Democrat, said he hasn't talked to Graham or McCain.
Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHouse passes bill to expedite financial disclosures from judges McConnell leaves GOP in dark on debt ceiling Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default MORE (R-Texas) has repeatedly ruled out making changes to JASTA after it initially cleared Congress.
Changes were made to JASTA before it passed the Senate including adding a provision 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 to JASTA strengthened 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."
A congressional aide familiar with the language dismissed the changes, characterizing them "as a giveaway to K Street lobbyists and Saudis."
In the wake of the JASTA fight, Saudi Arabia expanded its lobbying efforts to include contracts with 14 lobbying shops.
But McCain called the changes the two senators are proposing as "modest."
"I think that logically, that you should not pursue or prosecute a government that did not knowingly ... stand by and assist a terrorist groups," he said. "That they should not be dragged into courts."