House to vote on ‘sue the Saudis’ bill before 9/11 anniversary

An American flag is seen in the plaque of names on the edge of the South Pool of the 9/11 Memorial  in New York © Shannon Stapleton
A bill allowing Americans to sue Saudi Arabia over 9/11 will be up for a vote in the House of Representatives before the attack’s 15th anniversary this month. The Senate adopted it unanimously in May, but the White House is threatening a veto.

Known as House Resolution 3815, the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” or JASTA, seeks to create an exception to sovereign immunity created by a 1976 law, thus allowing US citizens to sue foreign countries for terrorism that kills Americans on US soil. The law has been invoked to shield Saudi Arabia from lawsuits over the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Fifteen out of 19 men who hijacked commercial airliners and used them as missiles to target the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were subjects of the Saudi kingdom.

The Senate version, proposed by John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Charles Schumer (D-New York), was approved on May 17, by 100 votes to zero.

One of the leading champions of the bill, Representative Peter King (R-New York), said he received the green light from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), contingent on the backing of Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia).

“Ryan said so long as Goodlatte approves it, he would approve it. And I spoke to Goodlatte, and [Goodlatte] said he approves it and supports it,” King told Politico. “There is no reason now for it not to come to a vote. The House Judiciary Committee chairman supports it. It should be over and done. Cut and dry.”

"There is no reason for delay. There should be a vote, and there will be a lot of deep anger if it’s not" put forth on the House floor soon, King added.

While there are no details on when the vote may be scheduled, the bill is expected to pass and land on President Barack Obama’s desk before next Tuesday, the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The Obama administration has criticized the bill as undermining national sovereignty and damaging to US relations with Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this year, the Saudis threatened to sell $750 billion in US assets before the law could put them in jeopardy from incoming lawsuits. According to the US Treasury, the Gulf monarchy owned $116.8 billion in US securities as of March.

The government in Riyadh has mounted an “aggressive” campaign to defeat the legislation, Politico noted, relying on many lobbyists in Washington. Among them is the Podesta Group, co-founded by current Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta and run by his brother Tony.

A group of families who lost their loves ones in the 2001 terrorist attacks are saying they would disrupt the 9/11 commemoration organized by Paul Ryan on the House steps on Friday, unless the chamber of Congress addresses the bill.

“We are demanding accountability for our loved ones,” Terry Strada of New Jersey told Politico. Her husband Tom died at the World Trade Center. “It is past time for Congress to move forward with this."

“Is someone carrying the water for the Saudis?” Strada asked. “I’m not sure what the hold-up is.”