Senate poised to override Obama veto

Senate poised to override Obama veto
© Greg Nash

The Senate is set Wednesday to override President Obama’s veto of a bill allowing the victims of terrorism to sue foreign countries, an embarrassing foreign policy setback months before he leaves office.

Congressional sources on both sides of the Capitol say the White House’s lobbying effort to sustain Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act has been muted, and they expect the override to pass overwhelmingly.


It would be the first override of Obama’s presidency, and one of the biggest legislative wins of the Republican-controlled Congress over Obama.

Yet Republicans, who have been eager to tout their accomplishments this year, don’t plan on spiking the football, perhaps because the override is also a big win for Democrats such as New York Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerReestablishing American prosperity by investing in the 'Badger Belt' House Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Graham dismisses criticism from Fox Business's Lou Dobbs MORE (N.Y.), who is trying to recapture the Senate for his party.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTop Senate GOP super PAC makes final .6M investment in Michigan Senate race On The Money: McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 | Lawmakers see better prospects for COVID deal after election Overnight Health Care: House Dem report blasts Trump coronavirus response | Regeneron halts trial of antibody drug in sickest hospitalized patients | McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 MORE (R-Ky.) doesn’t have a press conference planned after the override vote. Senate GOP Whip John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Pollsters stir debate over Trump numbers GOP faces fundraising reckoning as Democrats rake in cash The Memo: Texas could deliver political earthquake MORE (Texas), one of the lead sponsors, doesn’t have anything on tap yet, either.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' Trump excoriates Sasse over leaked audio Has Congress captured Russia policy? MORE (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP faces fundraising reckoning as Democrats rake in cash The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Election night could be a bit messy The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump, Biden blitz battleground states MORE (R-S.C.), who have tried to put together alternative legislation to avert the override, last week conceded there’s likely no stopping it.

The legislation allows foreign sponsors of terrorism to be sued in U.S. courts and is strongly supported by the families of Sept. 11 victims. The legislation is aimed at facilitating lawsuits against Saudi Arabia, the country where most of the 9/11 hijackers came from.

The bill passed the Senate and the House unanimously earlier this year and last week received backing from both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump may continue to campaign after Election Day if results are not finalized: report Hillicon Valley: Biden campaign slams Facebook after thousands of ads blocked | Majority of voters in three swing states saw ads on social media questioning election validity: poll | Harris more often the target of online misinformation Analysis: Where the swing states stand in Trump-Biden battle MORE and Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpStephen Miller: Trump to further crackdown on illegal immigration if he wins US records 97,000 new COVID-19 cases, shattering daily record Biden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll MORE.

Overturning the veto requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers, and Corker said the override would be “a fait accompli” if senators voted on the politically charged issue before the elections.

“Unless there are 34 people willing to fall on their swords over this, it’s probably not worth falling on your sword over,” he told The Washington Post.

Graham, who said earlier this month that he did not believe the Saudi government was to blame for the Sept. 11 attacks and scrambled with Corker to make changes to the legislation, says he will probably join his colleagues in voting for the override.

“If nobody’s trying to accommodate this problem, we’re just gonna vote … and if I have to vote, I’m going to vote to override the veto,” Graham told The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C.

A Senate aide said the White House waited too long to try to kill the bill, which passed the Senate by unanimous voice vote in May.

“It is a political malpractice that the full press is coming so late,” said the aide.

Another Senate aide said the White House appears to realize that not much can be done at this point.

“It doesn’t seem to me that they’re really trying that hard,” the aide said. “The White House is kind of out of options.”

In his veto message to the Senate, Obama warned the legislation would undermine U.S. security by letting private litigants and the courts decide whether foreign governments have sponsored terrorism — a task currently left to national security and foreign policy professionals.

Obama noted the United States has a larger international presence than any other country and argued that creating an exception to sovereign immunity would subject U.S. military and other government personnel to foreign court proceedings.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Monday declined to describe the president’s lobbying effort in detail but said his team has contacted various lawmakers.

“The president’s views are well known,” he told reporters. “The president’s had an opportunity to convey those to members of Congress at different points.”

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryOn The Trail: The fallacy of a conclusive election night McCarthy urges networks not to call presidential race until 'every polling center has closed' Seinfeld's Jason Alexander compares Trump dance video to iconic Elaine dance MORE is scheduled to fly back from Colombia, where he attended a peace accord signing, with Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinBipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Pelosi hopeful COVID-19 relief talks resume 'soon' Congress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out MORE (Md.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Cardin said he would carefully review Obama’s veto statement before deciding how he would vote on the override, so Kerry will have ample opportunity to make the administration’s case.

Senate aides say the bill’s sponsors made a significant concession to the administration earlier this year when they included language allowing future presidents to halt a lawsuit against a foreign government through a court-mediated process.

If the vote succeeds in the Senate, the bill will head to the House, where an override is expected to sail through with strong bipartisan support despite concerns raised by Reps. Mac Thornberry (Texas) and Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Administration notifies Congress it plans to approve F-35 sale to UAE | VMI votes to remove Stonewall Jackson statue after allegations of racism| House defense panel chairman: Trump has 'no plan' to leave Afghanistan by Christmas House defense panel chairman: Trump has 'no plan' to leave Afghanistan by Christmas Governors urge negotiators to include top priorities in final defense policy bill MORE (Wash.), the Republican chairman and ranking Democrat, respectively, of the Armed Services Committee.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats MORE (R-Wis.), who was initially skeptical of the legislation, told reporters last week that he expects there will be enough votes to override the veto.

“I do have concerns about the legislation,” Ryan said, noting that as Speaker, he usually does not vote. “But I’m going to let Congress work its will, because that’s what Congress does. I do think the votes are there for the override.”

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), the second-highest-ranking House GOP leader, said he also believes it will pass.

“I would think there were enough votes to override, but first it goes through the Senate,” he told reporters.

McCarthy said he’s “inclined” to vote to override the veto but will meet with Thornberry before making a final decision.

Thornberry circulated a letter to all of his Republican colleagues Friday warning the legislation would put U.S. military and intelligence personnel at risk.

He argued that if other countries were to take similar measures, “the risks of discovery or trial in foreign courts, including the questioning of government employees under oath, will disclose sensitive information and subject Americans to legal jeopardy.”

Smith made similar points in a letter circulated among members of his caucus.

“We must protect the people we rely on to carry out U.S. policy, and these legal safeguards are essential in doing so,” he wrote in a letter dated Sunday. 

Jordan Fabian and Scott Wong contributed.