Democrats divided over 1998 embassy bombing settlement

Democrats divided over 1998 embassy bombing settlement
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A proposed settlement for the victims of the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania has divided Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but lawmakers are still hoping to pass legislation as part of a stopgap spending measure to allow the deal to move forward.

Sens. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMurkowski: Supreme Court nominee should not be taken up before election Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight Sunday shows - Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death dominates MORE (D-Del.) and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineNames to watch as Trump picks Ginsburg replacement on Supreme Court Barrett seen as a front-runner for Trump Supreme Court pick Biden promises Democratic senators help in battleground states MORE (D-Va.) — two members of the Foreign Relations Committee — and Sens. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate Mid-Atlantic states sue EPA over Chesapeake Bay pollution Trump payroll-tax deferral for federal workers sparks backlash MORE (D-Md.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerIntelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Israel, UAE, Bahrain for historic signing l Air Force reveals it secretly built and flew new fighter jet l Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' House approves bill to secure internet-connected federal devices against cyber threats MORE (D-Va.), who have many federal employees in their home states, are working on the settlement. Coons is the lead Democratic supporter and it also has strong Republican backing. 

The settlement negotiated by the Trump administration would provide $335 million for the victims and the families of victims of the 1998 bombings, which killed 224 people and injured more than 4,000. Twelve Americans were killed. 

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For it to move forward, Congress would have to pass legislation to provide immunity to Sudan from future lawsuits stemming from its longtime designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards MORE is expected to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism if Congress agrees to extend its sovereign immunity over the past three decades. Sudan was added to the list of state sponsors of terrorism in August of 1993.

Sudan provided safe harbor and material support to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, who organized the bombing. 

The goal is to add a bipartisan bill that would allow the settlement to move forward to the stopgap spending measure that Congress is expected to pass by the end of the month.

A spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget, however, said the bill is not yet on the “anomalies” list of items that could be included in the continuing resolution.

The settlement has also run into objections from Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezKasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage MORE (N.J.), the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, because it would provide more compensation to U.S. citizens than to foreign nationals who worked at the embassies at the time of the bombing and have since become naturalized U.S. citizens.

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“That agreement treats United States citizens who are naturalized [as] inferior to those who are native born and were hurt in the attacks. Secondly, it treats the foreign nationals who are overwhelmingly of African descent who work for us for a fraction of what everybody else gets,” Menendez told The Hill before the August recess.

“It’s a horrid statement to make that a U.S. citizen naturalized is worth less than a U.S. citizen born and it’s equally horrid to say that a foreign national who happens to be working for us by choice — and we need these foreign nationals across the world — that their life is worth less,” he added. “That’s why I have a problem with it.”

Earlier this summer there was discussion about adding the legislation to allow the settlement to proceed to the next coronavirus relief bill. That talk has died out because negotiations between Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiAs families deal with coronavirus, new federal dollars should follow the student Sunday shows - Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death dominates Hypocrisy rules on both sides over replacing Justice Ginsburg MORE (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinLawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal United Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid House Democrats plan to unveil bill next week to avert shutdown MORE over the next relief package are at an impasse.

Menendez said it would be inappropriate to add the bill to a coronavirus relief package.

“I don’t even understand why it would be part of COVID. We got a lot of things to do with COVID — testing, contact tracing, aid to states and cities, dealing with small businesses. This has nothing to do with COVID,” he said.

Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonSenate to hold nomination hearing for Wolf next week Hillicon Valley: FBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden | Treasury Dept. sanctions Iranian government-backed hackers FBI director calls antifa 'a real thing' MORE (D-Miss.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has also raised concerns about the disparity.

“I would not want foreign nationals who worked in our embassies to be treated as second-class citizens,” he told The New York Times in July.

The settlement would provide $235 million for U.S. citizens and the families of U.S. citizens hurt or killed in the bombings and $100 million for foreign nationals.

An estimated 15 victims who were foreign nationals at the time of the bombing are now U.S. citizens and not eligible to the $235 million pool of compensation funding.

The Sudanese government, however, now says there is enough money within the $100 million fund for foreign nationals to double the amount of proposed compensation for the small number of them who have since become U.S. citizens, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Coons said he is “trying very hard to resolve some differences between some important senators on the [Foreign Relations] committee.”

He spoke to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Trump steps up Iran fight in final election stretch MORE before the August recess about how to move forward, as well as the prime minister of Sudan.

“My folks are continuing to meet and negotiate with representatives of different groups, whether it’s American nationals whose family members were victims of terrorism or others with real concerns about this,” he said.

“I’m very eager for us to resolve this in an appropriate and just way because I think the democratic transition in Sudan is fragile and the government in Khartoum, which is in civilian hands at the moment, badly needs to be able access international investment,” he said.

“I’m hopeful there’s a path forward,” he said.    

Coons said he’s “very anxious” for a deal to be done and not wait until the lame-duck session in December.

Coons pressed Pompeo on the issue during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in late July.

Pompeo agreed that finding a solution “is really important.”

“We’ve proposed that there’s [a] legal peace resolution in legislation that would be before Congress here in the very, very near term. We think it’s the appropriate time to both bring justice to those from the 1998 bombings and get real opportunity for Prime Minister Hamdok,” Pompeo said, referring to Abdalla Hamdok, the prime minister of Sudan.