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Congress needs to get it right this time on 9/11 victim bill
If the bipartisan “buyer’s remorse” Congress feels for passing a popular bill for victims of Sept. 11 over the president’s veto came from a lack of information, then three members of Colorado’s congregation who opposed it should be applauded for at least doing their homework.
Voting against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, was a hard vote in an election year — but it was the right one.
Yes, it’s easy to imagine the negative campaign ads that could be developed. No one wants to be accused of not supporting the families who lost their loved ones in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
Colorado Reps. Ken Buck, a Republican, and Democrats Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter were among only 78 members of Congress who opposed JASTA. We wish others had been as thoughtful.
JASTA, once you get past its nod to 9/11 victims, subjects American diplomats, military members, intelligence agents and officials to the danger of lawsuits. The new law flouts the longtime protections granted by the principle of sovereign immunity of nations, and also risks a drain of economic investment from countries like Saudi Arabia angry or nervous about it.
JASTA is broad. It allows lawsuits against foreign nations in federal court for involvement in acts of terrorism on U.S. soil. However, it was specifically aimed at allowing families of victims of 9/11 who believe that Saudi Arabia played a role in the attacks to file suit.
President Barack Obama vetoed the bill and it’s the first time Congress has been able to muster enough votes for an override during his tenure. In his veto message, Obama said the measure “undermines core U.S. interests.”
Almost immediately after the bill became law, Republican leaders in the House and Senate expressed concern that the bill might have unintended consequences and called for a fix when Congress returns in November. They chided Obama and his administration for failing to articulate concerns, despite the veto letter.
Whether or not a lame-duck Congress waiting for its term to end can make anything happen as the nation awaits new leadership in the White House remains to be seen. There will likely be more pressing issues than walking back this recent bill.
Buck said he’s optimistic a fix will be forthcoming, saying several of his colleagues who voted for it did so while expressing hope that it be narrowed in coming months.
But if Congress fails to act in this window when it must be easier for them to make this kind of unpopular vote, then does that mean a JASTA “fix” will have to wait two more years and risk the kind of damage that might occur in the courts for the next lame-duck Congress not worried about re-election?
We hope Congress will do its research this time and not have regrets after the fact.Content originally published by The Denver Post on October 3rd, 2016.