GOP rebuffs call to uphold Obama veto

GOP rebuffs call to uphold Obama veto
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House Republicans are rebuffing a call from the chairman of the Armed Services Committee to uphold President Obama’s veto of legislation allowing families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia.

Several committee members on Tuesday announced their continued support for the bill after House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteBottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden Press: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself MORE (R-Va.) spoke out in favor of the legislation during the GOP conference that morning, Republicans said.


“I don’t see it getting any traction,” Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), who introduced the bill in the House, said of the call to uphold the veto. That view was backed up by several others tracking the override vote.

Securing the two-thirds majority needed to override the president has been widely seen as a fait accompli, despite some Democratic wavering last week. 

An override vote is scheduled for the Senate on Wednesday. The House will follow later in the week. 

But on Friday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) became the first Republican to come out against an override, issuing a Dear Colleague letter that urged members to reconsider, “as tempting as it may be to override President Obama’s veto for the first time.”

He warned specifically that the so-called Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) could endanger American military, intelligence and diplomatic personnel overseas. 

In a brief interview on Monday, Thornberry told The Hill he had received positive feedback from his colleagues, though he wouldn't divulge who had approached him about the letter or who had expressed support.

But by Tuesday, any support amongst committee members Thornberry might have had appeared to have eroded. 

“I have a high regard for [Judiciary] Chairman Bob Goodlatte and he has made it clear that this is such a narrow definition that it would protect our service members and diplomats overseas,” Rep. Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves WilsonProgressive activist to challenge Joe Wilson in South Carolina All House Republicans back effort to force floor vote on 'born alive' bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Masks off: CDC greenlights return to normal for vaccinated Americans MORE (R-S.C.) told The Hill, confirming that he would be voting to override the veto. 

“I hope and pray that an overwhelming majority of our colleagues will… assure that JASTA is passed into law through an override of the President's veto,” Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) said in a statement issued Tuesday. 

Some Republicans did appear receptive to Thornberry’s message — Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) is still looking into the issue, according to a spokesman. 

The Republican Study Committee will also discuss the override Wednesday during its weekly meeting, according to a spokesperson for Thornberry. 

Thornberry’s warning echoes concerns about the bill voiced by senior military and intelligence officials. 

"This is likely to increase our country's vulnerability to lawsuits overseas and to encourage foreign governments or their courts to exercise jurisdiction over the United States or U.S. officials in situations in which we believe the United States is entitled of sovereign immunity," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in letter to Thornberry on Tuesday. 

But despite administration support for his position, Thornberry does not appear to be pressing his case.

The chairman wanted members to understand the concerns about the bill’s potential impact on military personnel, a committee aide said Tuesday, but he is not “leading any kind of whip operation, counting votes or keeping tally of changed opinions.”

Separately, a Republican member who supports the bill told The Hill that he understands Thornberry is not going to “actively work against” the override. 

The leading Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithSenate panel adds B to Biden's defense budget Back to '70s inflation? How Biden's spending spree will hurt your wallet Military braces for sea change on justice reform MORE (Wash.) has also announced his opposition to the override, citing the same danger to American officials. 

At issue is whether the so-called Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act  (JASTA) would  open up U.S. personnel to retributive lawsuits by other nations that may enact similar legislation. 

The text of the legislation dictates that a foreign state is subject to U.S. litigation for any international act of terrorism in the U.S. or the wrongful act of any government official “while acting within the scope of his or her office.”

If other nations pass similar laws, critics say, American officials could find themselves in the crosshairs of foreign courts — possibly forcing them to disclose sensitive information during the discovery process.

“We should not go down this road. Americans are in countries all over the world. Many of those countries do not respect the rule of law, and we cannot expect their responses to be as measured and narrow as ours. We have more at stake than anyone else — and our personnel will incur the most risk,” Thornberry wrote Friday. 

The shared opposition made unusual bedfellows of Thornberry and Obama, who has lobbied fiercely against the measure. 

But Thornberry’s specific criticism received only brief mention in the president’s three-page veto statement, issued on Friday. It was addressed only as part of a larger concerns with undermining longstanding principles of sovereign immunity.

Supporters of the bill say it is narrowly drawn and applies only to the immunity of foreign states without affecting the immunity of individual government officials or employees.

"To the extent the issue is instead the potential that a foreign government might enact different laws that allow claims against U.S. personnel, it would not be reciprocating but rather engaging in a transparent and unjustifiable act of aggression, and the U.S. would be expected to respond by making clear the economic, diplomatic, social and military consequences of such aggression, as it would in any other case," according to one group of victims’ families lobbying for the bill. 

The bill’s backers remain confident that both the House and the Senate will override the veto. 

In the House, both Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump clash ahead: Ron DeSantis positions himself as GOP's future in a direct-mail piece Cutting critical family support won't solve the labor crisis Juan Williams: Trump's GOP descends into farce MORE (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy have said they anticipate that there are enough votes to force the bill into law. 

A House Judiciary aide confirmed Tuesday that Goodlatte will vote to override. 

“There may be some Republicans, some Democrats” who support the veto, King told The Hill, “but nowhere near the 145 [needed to sustain it].”

Scott Wong contributed.