Politics

Terrorism Bill Creates Odd Allies in Obama, Corporate Execs

Dow Chemical, GE bosses urge Republican leaders to cancel override votes

President Obama with GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt, who is joining him in fighting an override of a terrorism-related bill. (GE photo via Flickr)

The White House is finding some unlikely allies in its efforts to discourage Congress from overriding President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill allowing lawsuits against countries with possible ties to terrorist attacks.

Several CEOs of corporations with ties to governments in regions that are breeding grounds for violent extremists are urging House and Senate leaders to scrap plans for override votes as early as this week.

In letters sent late last week to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, the chief executives of Dow Chemical and General Electric made some of the same arguments against the measure that have been put forward by Obama and his top aides.

Obama's tighter regulations on big banks and frequent criticism of U.S.-based firms that move their headquarters to lower-tax countries have never made him a favorite in corporate boardrooms. The bid to let Obama’s rejection of the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” stand will temporarily throw political alliances out of kilter.

In a statement explaining his Friday veto, Obama expressed "deep sympathy" for those who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001, writing in an accompanying statement that he has "deep appreciation of these families' desire to pursue justice and [is] strongly committed to assisting them in their efforts."

The president said he could not sign the bill into law because other nations might to pass look-alike laws, leading to more lawsuits and inconsistent standards for what constitutes state support for terrorist attacks. The White House has also warned against potential ramifications for U.S. military personnel, diplomats and even corporations.

(Proponents portray the bill as "narrowly" crafted to guard against such things.)

[Democrats Qualify Support for 9/11 Bill]

The Senate is slated to go first with an override vote, on Wednesday. The White House acknowledged Friday it is counting votes and trying to convince lawmakers who privately have expressed some of the same concerns as administration officials to vote to sustain the veto

In a Sept. 22 letter to McConnell, GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt asked him to “strongly reconsider” his support for the measure, calling it “well-intentioned” but warning of “serious consequences for our country’s critical relationships in the Middle East and with the rest of the world.”

“The bill is not balanced, sets a dangerous precedent, and has real potential to destabilize vital bilateral relationships and the global economy,” Immelt wrote.

Immelt also has been making direct pleas to lawmakers to sustain Obama’s veto, a GE source told Roll.

Dow Chemical Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris also has echoed White House officials in his message to leadership. In a letter sent the same day to Ryan, Liveris warns the measure could “set a dangerous precedent” and “destabilize vital relationship[s] with key allies in Europe and in the Gulf, and expose America’s interests abroad … to dangerous retaliation.”

Sources said administration officials did not urge the executives to pen the letters or communicate with them before they were sent.

[On Terrorism Bill, Senators Report Silence from White House]

The corporations have been active political givers. Dow has donated $10,525 this election cycle to Ryan, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. GE has donated $2,500 to McConnell. GE has given $12,925 to the speaker, but nothing this cycle to the Senate’s top Republican.

Perhaps the biggest factor in the override fight could be whether an ample number of Senate Democrats stand by Obama. The debate surrounding a stopgap funding measure offered by McConnell could play a role in deciding the terrorism bill’s fate.

For his part, Ryan for months has echoed many of the White House’s concerns, but let his chamber unanimously approve JASTA earlier this month. He has said he will see how the Senate handles its override vote before announcing the House’s plan.

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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