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US lawmakers may change 9/11 law after rejecting veto

White House spokesman Josh Earnest mocked lawmakers for shifting ‘within minutes’ on wanting to change the law

Published: Updated:

US lawmakers expressed doubts on Thursday about Sept. 11 legislation they forced on President Barack Obama, saying the new law allowing lawsuits against Saudi Arabia could be narrowed to ease concerns about its effect on Americans abroad.

A day after a rare overwhelming rejection of a presidential veto, the first during Obama’s eight years in the White House, the Republican leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives opened the door to fixing the law as they blamed the Democratic president for not consulting them adequately.

“I do think it is worth further discussing,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, acknowledging that there could be “potential consequences” of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, known as JASTA.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Congress might have to “fix” the legislation to protect US troops in particular.

Ryan did not give a time frame, but Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he thought JASTA could be addressed in Congress’ “lame-duck” session after the Nov. 8 election.

The law grants an exception to the legal principle of sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism on US soil, clearing the way for lawsuits seeking damages from the Saudi government. Riyadh denies longstanding suspicions that it backed the hijackers who attacked the United States in 2001.

Saudi condemnation

The Saudis lobbied against JASTA, and the Saudi foreign ministry condemned its passage in a statement on Thursday. “The erosion of sovereign immunity will have a negative impact on all nations, including the United States,” said the statement, which was carried on state news agency SPA.

Still, the new law is not expected to have a lasting effect on the two countries’ strategic relationship.

Saudi-US ties have endured “multiple times of deep outrage” over 70 years, said Thomas Lippman of the Middle East Institute. “The two countries need each other as much today as they did before the day before yesterday,” he said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest mocked lawmakers for shifting “within minutes” from overwhelmingly voting to override Obama’s veto to wanting to change the law.

“I think what we’ve seen in the United States Congress is a pretty classic case of rapid onset buyer’s remorse,” Earnest told a White House briefing.