It’s sort of like the law of intended consequences, only in this case it’s the consequence of inattentive lawmakers. Congress is hot to get out of town to campaign for reelection.
But Republicans are saddled with an embarrassing presidential candidate leading the ticket, and the Congress as a whole has no record of accomplishment for the last two years, if you don’t count gridlock and obstructionism.
In the knick of time along came an apparently easy putt. The families of 9/11 victims have been pushing for a bill, sexily entitled the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, that would allow them to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for aiding and abetting the 9/11 villains.
To lazy pols what could be sweeter than this kind of twofer. They get to be on the side of sympathetic 9/11 victims and against Muslims, hell, “Arab” is even in the name of the targeted country.
For Republicans it was even sweeter. Democrats would be afraid to vote against widows and orphans and in favor of Arabs, and President Obama said the bill was a bad idea and threatened a veto.
Just imagine the cool TV ads they could run for the next month. “Rep. Stalwart defended 9/11 victims against evil Arabs and dished out one final diss to the pusillanimous law professor president.”
But in the immortal word of Gov. Rick Perry — “Oops!”
Almost as soon as congress voted overwhelmingly to poke the president in the eye by overriding his veto — Senate 97-1, House 348-77 — some of the less dimwitted realized self-interest and partisan zealotry may have led them astray.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan suggested maybe they’d have to revisit the bill and fix it — after they adjourn to go home for a month to boast of having approved it. Turns put Obama, the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security and the head of the CIA as well as other worthies all warned Congress not to pass the bill.
Yes, Saudi Arabia has a long history of having it both ways, being an ally of the oil-thirsty, arms-selling West while exporting radical Wahhabist jihadis. And yes, 15 of 19 9/11 perpetrators were Saudis, but there is no credible evidence that Saudi Arabia backed them, though some loony members of the royal family may have helped fund bin Laden. Indeed, Al-Qaeda’s goal was the overthrow of the kingdom.
But the veto was because of the doctrine of sovereign immunity and our own national security. Present law says individuals can seek to prosecute individuals for crimes but not states. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act could change all that and set a dangerous precedent, Obama warned.
It could invite retribution and put our troops, diplomats, citizens and alliances at risk. And if our people can sue Saudi Arabia for harm caused by its citizens, why can’t people in Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan who believe they have been harmed by civilian casualties, drones strikes or other American actions sue us?
McConnell admitted after the fact that the law might have unintended consequences. Other members of the House and Senate complained petulantly that nobody warned them that the bill might backfire. But, of course, the President has been warning since April and many military, security and foreign policy experts raised their voices to protest as the vote neared.
Congress didn’t listen because it didn’t want to listen. It wanted an accomplishment to campaign on. Nor did it apparent;y occur to members to read the bill and consider what it could lead to, though that would appear to be a task central to a legislator’s job description.
When the fever to get reelected takes over, who cares about the security of the country or the idiocy of the laws being enacted? “Two More Years!” chants the House member. “Six more years!” rants the Senator. “Consequences be damned. I want to keep my seat.”