Politics

House to Put Obama in Tough Spot With 9/11 Bill Vote

White House issues veiled veto threat, urges further talks

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, right, seen here with Majority Leader Kevin Mcarthy, expects legislation that could open up legal action against foreign state actors involved in the 9/11 attacks to pass. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans plan to honor the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks by effectively daring President Barack Obama to veto a bill that would grant victims' families the authority to take legal action against foreign state sponsors of terrorism. 

The House will vote Friday on the Senate-passed measure despite the Obama administration's concerns that the bill could prompt other countries to pass similar laws that could tie up the U.S. government in lengthy and costly litigation abroad. Speaker Paul D. Ryan predicted the bill will pass. 

The legislation would narrow the scope of foreign sovereign immunity by authorizing federal courts to hear criminal and civil cases against a foreign state or official suspected to have been involved in an act of international terrorism and to impose liability when applicable, according to a Congressional Research Service summary. 

Some have called the bill an attempt to allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for alleged ties to the Sept. 11 attacks.

A senior Obama administration official on Thursday signaled the president's continued opposition to the legislation as currently crafted, issuing what sounded like a thinly veiled veto threat.

"We believe there needs to be more careful consideration of the potential unintended consequences of its enactment before the House considers the legislation," the senior official said. "While we remain absolutely committed to assisting the families of 9/11 victims and sympathize with the motivation behind the legislation, we have serious concerns over the potential negative implications for U.S. interests and our national security.

[Bipartisan Push on to Oppose 9/11 Bill]

The official said the White House would "welcome opportunities to engage with the Congress further on that discussion," but stopped short of stating plainly that Obama would veto the measure.

After the Senate passed the bill in mid-May, senior White House aides said they intended to work with House leaders to alter its substance. It appears those efforts, however, were unsuccessful.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Roll Call that the House would vote on the same version of the bill that the Senate passed. 

Asked about Obama's indications that he may veto the measure, the California Republican shrugged off any concern, saying, "I think he puts a veto threat [on] about everything."

Ryan told reporters Thursday that House members have weighed concerns about the bill but that most seem to believe the arguments for the legislation are more compelling. 

"I think that the votes are very overwhelmingly in favor," the Wisconsin Republican said. "This bill passed unanimously in the United States Senate. So I think that those concerns have been taken under consideration, and I think members are acting accordingly. And that's why this bill will pass."

The House will consider the Senate-passed bill under suspension of the rules, a procedure that requires a two-thirds majority for passage. That means that a significant number of House Democrats are willing to ignore Obama's concerns too.

[Obama Faces a Growing Dilemma Over Saudi Ties]

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters the administration tried to get the House to change language in the bill and send it back to the Senate, but she called that effort "a little late."

The bill has also been a topic on the campaign trail.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has split with Obama, announcing her support for the bill in April. “Wherever the trail may lead, it should be followed,” Clinton, the former secretary of State, told a New York radio station. “We need justice."

Her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, does not appear to have taken a position. But he has been highly critical of Saudi Arabia for failing to reciprocate the financial and military support it gets from the United States. 

Rema Rahman contributed to this report. 

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.