UPDATES WITH WHITE HOUSE VETO COMMENTS
By Kasim Ileri
WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that allows families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi Arabian government.
The move rebukes the White House and defies Riyadh’s economic threats.
The bipartisan bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas was approved by a voice vote.
Senators urged the House to follow suit by passing the measure.
The bill, Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, had been stalled in the chamber for months as the White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan expressed concerns about provisions in it, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remained reluctant to support.
Saudi Arabia threatened to pull an estimated $750 billion in assets from the U.S. if the bill is signed into law.
The White House said earlier this month that President Barack Obama would veto the bill, noting that it could expose Americans overseas to legal risks, and spokesman Josh Earnest again reiterated the threat Tuesday.
"Given the concerns that we have expressed, it's difficult to imagine the president signing this legislation," he told reporters. "That continues to be true."
Earnest added that as the House takes up the bill "there is an opportunity for us to work in bipartisan fashion to try to address the serious concerns that we have raised about the unintended consequences of this legislation being enacted."
Support for the bill has grown as the Obama administration has been weighing declassification of 28 pages of a report on the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that allegedly suggests a Saudi-funded network for the 19 hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon.
If the legislation becomes law, Sept. 11 victims' families will have the right to sue the government of Saudi Arabia in American courts for any role that elements of the Kingdom’s government may have had in the attacks.
It will also prevent any other country with alleged terrorist links from benefiting from their sovereign immunity in U.S. federal court.
Many Senate Democrats backed the bill, including Minority Leader Harry Reid.
AA reporter Michael Hernandez conrtibuted to this report