The White House confirmed Tuesday that President Obama plans to veto newly passed legislation allowing the families of 9/11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia – laying the groundwork for a showdown with Congress.
The bipartisan bill gained final approval Friday in the House. The White House now has the legislation, and spokesman Eric Schultz said aboard Air Force One that Obama intends to veto.
He said the legislation is contrary to how the U.S. has conducted business on the international stage for decades.
The administration for months has argued the legislation could harm the country’s relationship with Saudi Arabia -- and cautioned that if the door is opened for U.S. citizens to take the Saudis to court, then a foreign country could in turn sue the United States.
But the legislation has widespread support in Congress, and Republican lawmakers ripped Obama for his continued opposition on Tuesday.
Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, said the threatened veto shows where the president’s “loyalties” lie.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he hopes Obama rethinks the veto threat.
A presidential veto could set up a vote to override in the run-up to the presidential election. Votes from two-thirds of the members in the House and Senate would be needed to override.
The bill itself would give victims’ families the right to sue in U.S. court for any role that elements of the Saudi government may have played in the 2001 attacks that killed thousands of Americans in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The House vote was held ahead of the 15th anniversary of the terror attacks. Following Friday’s vote, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the authors of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, said he was “pleased” the House had “taken this huge step forward towards justice” and said he hoped the Obama administration would not veto the bill.
“There are always diplomatic considerations that get in the way of justice, but if a court proves the Saudis were complicit in 9/11, they should be held accountable,” Schumer said in a written statement. “If they’ve done nothing wrong, they have nothing to worry about.”
Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally, has voiced strong objections to the legislation.
Friday’s House vote comes two months after Congress released 28 declassified pages from a congressional report into 9/11 that reignited speculation over links at least a few of the attackers had to Saudis, including government officials. The allegations were never substantiated by later U.S. investigations into the terrorist attacks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.