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President Obama will likely veto controversial legislation empowering the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia if that nation is found legally liable for supporting the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history, the White House said on Monday.
The White House’s position on legislation that unanimously passed both chambers of Congress potentially sets up a showdown on an emotionally charged topic. The president has vetoed 10 pieces of legislation during his tenure in office.
Bipartisan support for the measure — which is co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas — could lead to the first veto override of Obama's presidency.
The White House worries that the measure could open the floodgates to similar suits and put diplomats and business leaders at risk.
"It's not hard to imagine other countries using this law as an excuse to haul U.S. diplomats or U.S. service members or even U.S. companies into courts all around the world," White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday.
The House passed the measure on Friday just before the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
The Senate passed the measure in May.
"I'm pleased the House has taken this huge step forward towards justice for the families of the victims of 9/11. There are always diplomatic considerations that get in the way of justice, but if a court proves the Saudis were complicit in 9/11, they should be held accountable," Schumer said in a statement Friday after the measure's passage. "If they've done nothing wrong, they have nothing to worry about. I hope for the sake of the families who have suffered such losses and fought so hard, the administration will not veto this bill."
Differences between the White House and lawmakers backing the bill centers on concerns held by some of the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks and a bipartisan cadre of lawmakers that Saudi Arabia was involved in the attacks. Fifteen of the 19 terrorists were Saudi.
The Saudi government has staunchly opposed the legislation.
"In fact what they [Congress] are doing is stripping the principle of sovereign immunities which would turn the world for international law into the law of the jungle," Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said in May in a statement." That's why the [Obama] administration is opposed to it, and that's why every country in the world is opposed to it."