Getty Images

President Obama is poised to take one of the biggest gambles of his final year in office by vetoing a popular proposal empowering the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia.

Democrats put on a brave face Wednesday, insisting that Obama’s effort to sink the bipartisan bill won’t hurt their party in the elections. 

{mosads}But Republicans are ready to pounce, hoping to use Obama’s opposition as a campaign messaging tool portraying the president — and by extension, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and down-ballot Democrats — as siding with Middle Eastern oligarchs over the victims of the deadliest terror attack in America.

It’s an argument for which Democrats are already bracing, particularly from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, a New York celebrity whose combative, law-and-order approach — combined with his prolific use of a Twitter account — have largely defined his campaign.

“I don’t think the guy has a philosophical or an ideological bone in his body,” said Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.). “But what he does know is emotion, fear and feelings. And so do I think that he’ll exploit [Obama’s expected veto]? Absolutely.”

Many Democrats were quick to reject the notion that Obama’s high-profile opposition to the 9/11 bill would hurt Clinton and Democrats in the long run. 

“I just don’t think that Donald Trump has any credibility on national security issues, so it doesn’t concern me,” said Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the head of Democrats’ campaign messaging arm. “On Election Day, people are going to be casting their vote on who’s fit on national security, not a veto on [the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act].”

Still, many are acknowledging it will likely put Democrats on the defensive, at least temporarily, as they try to explain the nuanced reasons behind Obama’s promised veto of legislation that is backed by Clinton and was passed without opposition in Congress.

“He’s going to demagogue this, as he’s demagogued every other issue,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said of Trump. “And you know, for a couple of days, it’ll be the news of the day. But since he can’t stay on message, it’s like, OK, two days and then it’s over. 

“I’m not that worried about it.”

At issue is legislation allowing the families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to use the U.S. court system to sue the government of Saudi Arabia, which has long been accused of supporting the Sept. 11 hijackers — a charge Saudi leaders deny.

The legislation passed unanimously in the Senate earlier this year, and the House followed suit with a voice vote this month.

Obama, however, has vowed to reject the measure over concerns that it will upend the long-standing legal tradition of diplomatic immunity afforded to sovereign states, thereby subjecting U.S. citizens, companies and diplomats to similar suits abroad.

“The president will veto this legislation,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday.

Earnest did not say when, but the president has until Friday to act on the bill.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week said the upper chamber, initially expected to begin its recess by the end of the week, will be back in order to vote on overriding Obama’s veto.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the House will follow suit, predicting “the votes are there for the override.”

“I worry about trial lawyers trying to get rich off of this. And I do worry about the precedents,” Ryan said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “At the same time, these victims need to have their day in court.”

Passage of the bill would be something of a coup for Capitol Hill supporters, particularly those in and around New York City, who have been fighting to adopt the measure for years.

This week, a number of those people said they understand the reasons behind Obama’s opposition. But on balance, they argue that the victims’ right to justice outweighs the potential foreign policy ramifications. 

“I am empathetic to the president’s situation in terms of diplomatic immunity. But I think the merits will have to speak to themselves here,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “This was … one of the most blackened days in the history of our country, one of the darkest days. And there are a lot of questions that are unanswered for many American people and for the victims’ families.”

With that in mind, many Democrats are hoping Obama comes around and signs the legislation.

“Frankly, as a New Yorker, I would not deny anybody their right in court to sue as they saw fit,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “So if there is a veto, I would vote to override it. I would hope there wouldn’t be.”

“Sign it and take it off the table,” said another House Democrat who spoke anonymously. “But either way, it won’t sway a state in any direction in November.”

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video