US Congress overrides Obama’s veto of Saudi 9/11 bill

The House of Representatives voted 348-77 to override the president's veto and allow the families of September 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for the kingdom’s alleged backing of the attackers. The Senate had already voted 97-1 to override the veto.

This video grab shows the floor of the Senate on September 29, 2016, as senators vote to override president Barack Obama's veto of September 11 legislation. (C-SPAN2 via AP)
Powered by automated translation

ABU DHABI // Both chambers of the US Congress on Wednesday voted to override president Barack Obama’s veto of a bill that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia over the alleged role of its officials in the attack.

The House of Representatives voted 348-77 to reject the veto shortly after a 97-1 Senate vote to override it, the first such rebuke in Mr Obama’s eight year presidency.

The override votes have forced the bill into law.

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act was passed by unanimous consent in both houses of Congress before it was vetoed by Mr Obama on Friday.

It allows foreign governments alleged to be involved in a terrorist attack on US soil to be sued.

Mr Obama and his senior officials argued that the suspension of the principle of sovereign immunity by US courts would lead to courts abroad to charge American officials, military personnel and other citizens for potential violations of their laws by, for example, drone strikes.

After the Senate vote, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the override was “the single most embarrassing thing the Senate has done” in decades.

The administration, Saudi officials and legislators who have had a change of heart had been working over the past week to convince enough members of Congress to delay the override vote until the session after the November elections, when a compromise could be crafted that would limit the potential fallout overseas.

Letters warning against the override were sent to the Senate by Mr Obama, the two most senior US military officials and a number of large US corporations with significant business relationships with Riyadh.

Riyadh has reportedly threatened to sell billions in US debt and other assets to protect them and several GCC officials have said counter-terrorism and other ties could be downgraded.