By Julian Hattem - 04/19/16 01:34 PM EDT
Sen. Lindsey Graham has placed a hold on legislation that would open the door for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.
Graham (R-S.C.), who is a co-sponsor of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, put the hold on his own bill over concerns that new changes could expose the U.S. to legal attacks.Edits made last week by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) might expand the scope, Graham told reporters on Tuesday, potentially putting the U.S. at risk of legal retaliation because of actions by individuals or unsavory allies.
“I want to make sure that anything we do doesn’t come to bite us,” Graham told reporters in the basement of the Senate.
“Anything we do in this bill can be used against us later. So let's say there’s a situation where you’ve got an American in a consulate or an embassy that’s got their own grudge against a government,” he said. “We want to make sure that we’re not liable for that.”
Sessions, for his part, suggested that he shared Graham’s underlying concerns about the potential for the bill to expose the U.S. to legal attacks. Ultimate responsibility for settling the issue, he said, ought to belong with the Obama administration.
“Generally you get leadership from the State Department,” Sessions said on Tuesday. “But when the chips were down, they never produced any real assistance.”
“Somewhere along the line the president is going to need to review it, get his best team on it and if it’s not good for America, he should veto it or try to provide leadership.”
The lingering unease about the bill’s ramifications hints at the legal minefield that lawmakers need to navigate; the measure has gained new prominence amid President Obama’s travel to Saudi Arabia this week.
Saudi officials have strongly opposed the bill and threatened to sell off $750 billion of U.S. assets should it be enacted.
The White House has come out against the legislation, because of what it claims would be dangerous precedent that could erode the legal system of sovereign immunity.
“If we open up the possibility that individuals and the United States can routinely start suing other governments, then we are also opening up the United States to being continually sued by individuals in other countries,” Obama said in an interview with CBS broadcast early Tuesday.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) expressed skepticism on Tuesday of the legislation, which is backed by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), who are both leaders in their Senate caucuses.
“I think we need to look at it,” Ryan told reporters at a news conference. “I think we need to review it to make sure we are not making mistakes with our allies and that we’re not catching people in this that shouldn’t be caught up in this.”
Graham also raised the case of the People's Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian Kurdish forces that the U.S. has relied upon in the growing chaos of the Syrian civil war.
Despite being a critical tool of the U.S. in Syria, the YPG are allied with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish nationalist group in Turkey considered terrorists by both Washington and Ankara.
“If they go out and commit a terrorist act somewhere else against Turkey, I don’t want to be held liable because that’s not what we were sponsoring,” Graham said.
“Some of our allies are a bit dubious. I want to make sure that because we find common ground in one area, we don’t own these people forever because of whatever they do.”
The changes from Sessions have yet to be made public. An official with the Alabama Republican’s office did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the edits.
“The change that was made by Sen. Sessions may be a good change. It may limit the application of the bill in a way that protects us down the road,” Graham told reporters. “I really think I know what he’s trying to do.
"But I’ve had a couple of questions that I hadn’t gotten an answer to yet, and so we’re working on it.”
In Rare Alliance, Obama, Ryan Oppose 9/11 Bill
Republicans join Obama in squelching right for victims' families to sue
Posted at Apr 19, 2016 5:35 PM
House Speaker Paul Ryan greets President Barack Obama after he made remarks at the speaker’s annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon on Capitol Hill on March 15. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
A Senate bill that would allow families of those killed in the 9/11 attacks to sue the Saudi government has achieved a rare Washington distinction, by uniting the Obama administration and some of its fiercest GOP critics.
President Barack Obama, Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are rallying to kill the bipartisan plan that would make it possible for American citizens to sue foreign governments believed to be linked to terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest warned the legislation could lead other countries to craft even broader versions that could do significant harm to the U.S. government.
“It certainly is plausible … that that other countries when they're implementing these laws would not tailor them so specifically,” Earnest said. “And that does open up the United States to a unique degree of risk, and putting our country, our taxpayers, our service members and our diplomats in legal jeopardy in that way is contrary to our interests.”
Earnest said it would be “unwise” for the Senate to pass the legislation, “particularly when there is an alternative mechanism for us to resolve these kinds of issues with other countries.”
That alternative, he said, is “the essence of diplomacy.”
Shortly before Earnest appeared in the White House briefing room, Ryan spoke out against the so-called '9/11 bill.'
“I think we need to look at it,” Ryan told reporters at the Capitol. “I think we need to review it to make sure we are not making mistakes with our allies and that we’re not catching people in this that shouldn’t be caught up in this.
“The White House is opposed to it. It’s received some opposition here. We’re going to let these things work the process,” he added. “We’ll see where it goes from there.”
Administration officials are “gratified” to have Ryan as an ally as they try to block the legislation.
There has long been speculation that some members of the Saudi ruling family provided support to the al-Qaida hijackers on 9/11.
The White House on Tuesday picked up another unlikely partner in Graham, a hawkish Armed Services member and former GOP presidential candidate who is a frequent critic of Obama on foreign policy and national security matters. Graham placed a hold on the bill, wanting to review changes that have been made.
In fact, the legislation appears to align the president with many more Republican members than Democrats. Such scenarios, save a handful like trade bills, have been few and far between during Obama’s presidency.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada says that in the Senate, it's Republicans that are more split.
"I support it, almost everyone in the caucus supports it," Reid said of his Democrats.
Earnest acknowledged that this White House’s alliances with GOP members “is rare.”
“But I think in this instance it is an indication of just how significant these questions are, and, you know, we're obviously gratified that there are other Republicans who have taken … a close look at this legislation and recognized the serious, unintended consequences that could result from its passage,” he said.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday declined to discuss prospects for the bill, which is sponsored by Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and the No. 3 Senate Democrat, Charles E. Schumer of New York.
Graham appears to be "concerned with the way that this administration has treated our allies, and particularly Saudi Arabia as a result of the misguided Iran nuclear deal,” Cornyn told reporters. “And now the president seems to want to use the leverage of the 9/11 families in order to somehow mollify or cure that rift that the president has created.
"This is really narrow provision, which only has to do with terrorist attacks on our own soil," Cornyn said, adding that it wasn't necessarily the case that it would apply to Saudi Arabia. "Let's let the chips fall where they may."
Saudi leaders have threatened to sell $750 billion in U.S. assets should the 9/11 victims bill become law. Earnest, however, seemed to dismiss that threat earlier this week , saying the Middle East power is a "large economy" and has no interest in destabilizing the global economy.
On a related note, Reid said that he supported the position of members of the independent, bipartisan commission that investigated the attacks, who want to see 28 pages of their report that remain classified be made public. The material is believed to draw a picture of foreign support for the 9/11 hijackers.
White House officials are actively contacting members to make their case. Earnest said the administration would like to have “a dialogue” with lawmakers about the legislation.
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