Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) was the only one who voted to sustain the veto, The Hill reported. The two Senators to abstain were Vermont independent Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine (D-Virginia).
Obama vetoed the bill last week, explaining that the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” (JASTA) would erode the doctrine of sovereign immunity and expose the US to lawsuits around the world.
The override vote was the “single most embarrassing thing the Senate has done” in over two decades, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
JASTA, which passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate, allows US judges to waive sovereign immunity claims when dealing with acts of terrorism committed on American soil – potentially allowing lawsuits against Saudi Arabia over the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
The issue appears to cross party lines, with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) pushing for a veto override while Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) is concerned it would “end up exporting [US] foreign policy to trial lawyers.”
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has argued that allowing JASTA to become law could lead to US being sued in foreign courts and subjected to an “intrusive discovery process.”
This could put Washington in the “difficult position of choosing between disclosing classified or otherwise sensitive information or suffering adverse rulings and potentially large damage awards for our refusal to do so,” Carter wrote to House Armed Services Committee chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) earlier this week, according to the Military Times.
On Wednesday afternoon, the House voted 348-77 to override the veto, marking the 111th time in US history that this has happened, and the first in Obama’s presidential term.
The first-ever veto override took place in March 1845 and involved President John Tyler’s attempt to build military ships without the approval of Congress. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) holds the record for most vetoes overridden at 15, while Harry Truman (1945-1953) and Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) are tied at second place with 12.