Obama defeat is Schumer victory

Obama defeat is Schumer victory
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

President Obama is about to suffer an embarrassing defeat. And it’s coming partly at the hands of one of the most powerful Democrats in Washington.

The Senate on Wednesday is expected to vote overwhelmingly to override a veto by Obama for the first time in his presidency.

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Democratic and Republican senators predict only a few — if any — colleagues will vote to sustain the president’s veto on legislation backed by the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks.

The veto override will be a loss for Obama and a big win for Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocratic senator blasts 'draconian' press restrictions during impeachment trial Feds seek 25-year sentence for Coast Guard officer accused of targeting lawmakers, justices Clinton: McConnell's rules like 'head juror colluding with the defendant to cover up a crime' MORE, the Democratic senator from New York who hopes next year to become the first Jewish Senate majority leader in history. 

Schumer and Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial Cornyn disputes GAO report on withholding of Ukraine aid: It's 'certainly not a crime' MORE (R-Texas) are the lead sponsors of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which would allow U.S. citizens to file lawsuits against Saudi Arabia over the Sept. 11 attacks.

The bill passed the Senate and House unanimously in May and September, respectively.

Obama vetoed it last week, arguing it would put Americans at risk of similar lawsuits, but it has too much momentum to stop at this point. The House is expected to vote to override Obama after the Senate takes action.

Colleagues say the victory offers an early glimpse of how Schumer will operate as the new leader of the Democratic caucus in 2017.

Despite Schumer’s reputation as a lawmaker obsessed with political tactics and strategy, they predict he will emerge as more of a bipartisan dealmaker than Sen. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Trumpification of the federal courts Trump to rally evangelicals after critical Christianity Today editorial Left presses 2020 Democrats to retake the courts from Trump MORE (Nev.), the current Democratic leader.

“He’s effective,” said Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake: Republicans don't speak out against Trump 'because they want to keep their jobs' GOP senator calls CNN reporter a 'liberal hack' when asked about Parnas materials The 5 most vulnerable senators in 2020 MORE (R-Ariz.), who added that he thinks Schumer will “definitely” become more of a consensus builder than Reid, who often angers GOP colleagues by making hard-hitting political speeches on the Senate floor.

“Given his record, yeah, it seems he will be,” Flake said, assessing the likelihood of Schumer putting together agreements with Republican senators, either as majority or minority leader in 2017.

Schumer has championed the 9/11 victims bill for at least seven years, according to a review of the legislative history. The legislation was first introduced by former Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), a Republican who in 2009 switched parties to become a Democrat.

The proposal languished in the Judiciary Committee until Schumer teamed up with Cornyn, one of the Senate’s most influential Republicans, to give it new life.

“I found Sen. Schumer to be a good partner on some legislation and a worthy adversary on others,” said Cornyn, who serves on the Judiciary panel with Schumer.

The effort shows that Schumer won’t be afraid to buck a president from his own party in order to deliver for his home state. 

“This issue reflects a facet of Chuck which is no matter how high or hard he goes, he’s still a senator from New York. This issue affects New York families. He listens to them. He goes home every weekend,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee and a co-sponsor of the bill.

Schumer worked diligently over the past year to line up support.

He moved quietly to win over holdout Republicans on the Judiciary panel by giving the president power to halt lawsuits against foreign governments through a court-mediated process, which is less than the administration wanted but succeeded in moving the measure forward.

“He’s a consensus builder. He’s a coalition guy. He’s really done masterfully on this bill, and I think the unanimous vote in the Senate reflects that,” Blumenthal said.  

And he arranged to move it without too much noise, seeming to catch the administration off guard.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman 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.) said members of the Judiciary Committee didn’t pay much attention to the legislation until it came to the floor. At that point, nobody wanted to stand publicly against 9/11 victims and their families.

“I would be certainly not truthful if I said that the politics of the 9/11 victims [did not] weigh heavily,” he said. “As you look at it and talk to people now, people on the Judiciary Committee didn’t even realize at the time what was happening when it went to the floor.”

Corker says the bill has potentially serious negative foreign policy implications.

Obama warned in his veto message the legislation will improperly empower U.S. courts instead of national security and foreign policy experts to decide complex and sensitive questions about whether foreign governments are terror sponsors.

And it will undermine legal protections for U.S. military and intelligence personnel as well for U.S. government assets, he argued.

Despite the president’s strong words, the White House recognized it was probably too late to make much of a difference and put little effort into lobbying lawmakers.

When asked how much of an effort Obama made to persuade lawmakers to sustain the veto, Corker indicated zero.

Had the vote come last year or early this year, the administration might have had more of a chance. But weeks before the general elections, lawmakers have little interest in killing a bill that would punish the sponsors of terrorism.

Instead of mobilizing support to sustain Obama’s veto, critics of the legislation are discussing future legislation that might limit the legal options of the 9/11 families and reciprocally offer more protection for U.S. personnel abroad.

“It’s a group of people that on one hand have empathy for the 9/11 victims but on the other hand understand some of the language in this bill could create issues for ourselves,” Corker said.

“The thought is let a little time go by and see if some corrective measures can be put in another piece of legislation,” he added.