Congress’ right to override a presidential veto to a specific law is one of the pillars of democracy. It is one of the main resources allowing the balance of power granted by the Constitution. However, like any other tool, it can be put to good or bad use.
The latter is the case with the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which creates an exception to the principle of sovereign immunity for cases of terrorism on U.S. soil. The legislation opens the door to a number of lawsuits against the government of Saudi Arabia for the 9/11 attacks.
The arguments presented by President Obama to oppose the law are very reasonable. The possibility that governments who disagree with Washington may retaliate by changing their own laws to eliminate the sovereign immunity equally enjoyed by the U.S. on foreign soil cannot be disregarded.
In this respect, our country has much more to lose than Saudi Arabia, for example. For that reason, Republican Mac Thornberry, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, opposed overriding the veto in the House of Representatives that his Party was promoting.
The overwhelming pressure of a law presented as a way to aid 9/11 victims obtain justice proved to be too much for the large majority of legislators. Because it was being considered two months before the Presidential election, JASTA became an electoral weapon. This forced Democrats to become the GOP accomplices in Obama’s first veto override in his almost 8 years in the presidency, to avoid being accused of defending terrorism.
The law is so poorly written that, soon after the Senate overrode the presidential veto by a 97-1 margin, legislators are fighting to dilute it. That is the purpose of a letter signed by a bipartisan group of Senators sent to JASTA supporters seeking to mitigate the impact of the consequences this law may have on national security and foreign politics.
Relations with Saudi Arabia are already complicated enough for Congress to want to turn them into proselytism. It is also a bad idea when legislators want to micro-manage foreign politics discounting the side effects of their actions.
It would seem like the dearest desire of the Republican majority was to override a presidential veto no matter what it took before Obama left the White House, in utter disregard of everything else.