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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 CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBiden to go one-on-one with Manchin US, Iran signal possible breakthroughs in nuke talks How the United States can pass Civics 101 MORE (D-Del.) and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineManchin on collision course with Warren, Sanders On The Money: Incomes, consumer spending soared in March | Harris, senators work behind scenes on jobs package | Biden cancels some border wall construction Harris, senators work behind scenes on jobs package MORE (D-Va.) — two members of the Foreign Relations Committee — and Sens. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenThe Memo: Outrage rises among liberals over Israel Is America slipping to autocracy? Trade representative says policy must protect key industries MORE (D-Md.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerFacebook board decision on Trump ban pleases no one Schumer works to balance a divided caucus's demands Senate Intel vows to 'get to the bottom' of 'Havana syndrome' attacks 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 TrumpCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections Overnight Defense: US fires 30 warning shots at Iranian boats | Kabul attack heightens fears of Afghan women's fates | Democratic Party leaders push Biden on rejoining Iran deal 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) MenendezJuan Williams: A breakthrough on immigration? Biden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 Bottom line 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 PelosiThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns This week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning MORE (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinDemocrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer Yellen provides signature for paper currency Biden's name will not appear on stimulus checks, White House says 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 ThompsonBiden administration, Congress unite in effort to tackle ransomware attacks First migrant families reunited in 'beginning' of larger effort Biden takes quick action on cyber in first 100 days 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 PompeoMike PompeoPompeo on CIA recruitment: We can't risk national security to appease 'liberal, woke agenda' DNC gathers opposition research on over 20 potential GOP presidential candidates Dozens of scientists call for deeper investigation into origins of COVID-19, including the lab theory 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.