A day after overriding Obama’s veto, Key U.S. senator tried to find compromise on Saudi 9/11 bill

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By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan

(Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers on Thursday expressed doubts about Sept. 11 legislation they forced on President Barack Obama, saying the new law allowing lawsuits against Saudi Arabia could be narrowed to ease concerns about its effect on Americans abroad.

A day after a rare overwhelming rejection of a presidential veto, the first of Obama’s eight years in the White House, the Republican leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives opened the door to fixing the law as they blamed Obama for not consulting them adequately.

“I do think is worth further discussing,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, acknowledging that there could be “potential consequences” of the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” known as JASTA.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Congress might have to “fix” the legislation to protect U.S. servicemembers in particular.

Ryan did not give a time frame for addressing the issue, but Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he thought the issues could be addressed in Congress’ “lame-duck” session after the Nov. 8 election.

Corker also criticized the White House, saying he had tried to work with the administration to find a compromise before the veto override votes, but that the administration declined a meeting.

The law grants an exception to the legal principle of sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism on U.S. soil, clearing the way for lawsuits seeking damages from the Saudi government. Riyadh has denied longstanding suspicions that it backed the hijackers who attacked the United States in 2001. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

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Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who championed JASTA in the Senate, said he was opening to revisiting the legislation.

“I’m willing to look at any proposal they make but not any that hurt the families,” he said at a news conference.

However, he said he would oppose a suggestion that the measure be narrowed to only apply to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“You know what that does? It tells the Saudis to go ahead and do it again, and we won’t punish you,” Schumer said.

White House officials did not have immediate comment.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Susan Cornwell and David Morgan)

 

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