President Obama will veto legislation allowing the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts, the White House said Monday.
“That is still the plan. The president does plan to veto this legislation,” press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “I do anticipate the president will veto the legislation when it is presented to him. It hasn’t been presented to him yet.”
Those comments are the clearest indication yet Obama plans to veto the bipartisan legislation, opening up the possibility Congress could override an Obama veto for the first time.
Earnest had strongly hinted for the past several months that the president would reject the bill, but he had not issued a full veto threat before.
Obama has come under heavy pressure from Democratic lawmakers and 9/11 victims’ families who back the legislation not to veto the bill.
They are concerned it would set up a politically damaging showdown with Congress that would diminish the president’s political capital ahead of a year-end spending fight and a high-stakes lame-duck session of Congress.
But Earnest reiterated the White House’s fear that the measure would open up U.S. citizens to legal action overseas if foreign countries pass reciprocal measures.
“This law actually opens up the United States to the risk of being hauled into court in countries around the world,” he said.
The bill's authors believe they have the votes to override Obama's veto; the legislation passed unanimously by voice vote in both the House and Senate.
But Earnest indicated the White House would continue its lobbying campaign against the measure as a last-ditch attempt to ensure it does not become law.
“I would anticipate that the president will continue to explain his opposition to this legislation ... up until Congress decides whether to override his veto," Earnest said.
The measure is spurring heavy pushback from Persian Gulf states.
The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), on which Saudi Arabia plays a leading role, on Monday called the bill a threat to international order.
The legislation “contravenes the foundations and principles of relations between states, notably sovereign immunity,” GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani was quoted as saying by Reuters and other news agencies.
In addition to the joint statement, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar issued similar statements warning about the bill's potential impact on international diplomacy.
Updated at 2:26 p.m. Julian Hattem contributed.