Congress overrides presidential veto, fails to conceive consequences

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On Wednesday, Sept. 28, Congress voted to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that gives families of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks the authority to sue Saudi Arabia over allegedly supporting those attackers. By a nearly unanimous 97-1 Senate vote and a 348-77 House vote, the congressional chambers bypassed the president’s veto. This was the 12th time Obama used his veto power, and the first instance in which he was overridden in his two terms in office.

Although both Democrats and Republicans supported the bill, the Obama administration thought the bill posed risks to the U.S. White House spokesman Josh Earnest did not limit the bill’s impact to U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia. He said the Obama administration is “deeply concerned about the impact that this bill would have on the U.S. relationship with countries all around the world.”

Because the bill allows Americans to sue not only Saudi Arabia but any country for involvement in terrorism, there is the possibility that other countries could create laws allowing their citizens to sue the U.S. for sponsoring terrorism. With its many military bases and such a broad influence abroad, the U.S. could be at a greater risk for these legal suits. American military officials, then, could be drawn into foreign courts, and sensitive material could be leaked.

These risks outweigh the benefits of this bill, and despite the bill helping give voice to those who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 attacks, the country’s national security is more important. In addition, the bill passed with such strong support, likely because opposing it would be a bad political move; who would do something to take freedom away from the families of 9/11 victims?

Supporters of the bill even had qualms about supporting it, such as Republican Lindsey Graham. “We’ve got diplomats and soldiers and American business-people all around the world,” the senator said, “so we’ve got to think long and hard about not opening up Pandora’s box to our own people.” But Graham voted against Obama’s veto anyway.

In retrospect, over two dozen senators from both parties signed a letter requesting revisions to the bill, which has now become a law. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was among the letter’s signees, went as far as to blame Obama for the passage of the bill, saying that he “dropped the ball.” McConnell contended that the White House did not effectively communicate with Congress on the bill’s downsides.

Such a statement is outrageous. The Obama administration argued against the bill fervently. To shift blame to the president for a bill he vetoed dips into the absurd.

McConnell’s statement displays the ability of many politicians to twist their actions and those of others in favor of themselves. The senate majority leader will say he supports families of 9/11 victims but also uses the bill to criticize his opposition in government.

The actions of the U.S. Congress resembles those of post-Brexit voters who leaned toward leaving the European Union. In the same way that the voters did not know what they were supporting or what the implications were, each member of Congress did not read the bill’s contents or conceive of its flaws. While voters should ideally understand what they are voting on, members of Congress certainly should. Our representatives should represent the best of us. We trust our leaders to make educated decisions.

What may be most frustrating about the veto is that both parties resisted the president’s veto. In the senate, only Harry Reid stood in unity with the president, an act of loyalty and one without ramifications—he is not seeking reelection in November.

Senators Tim Kaine and Bernie Sanders did not vote. This means neither party thoroughly considered the law’s possible effects. All but three U.S. senators ranked the consequences abroad below their ability to say they supported a bill assisting 9/11 victims’ families.

Bipartisan support is usually a good thing. Gridlock slows progress. In this case, however, it would have been for the best if senators had separated themselves from the pack. It would have been for the best if they had said, “I support the victims’ families, but I do not support this bill. I will not protest the president’s veto.”