US lawmakers may change 9/11 law after rejecting veto

U.S. lawmakers expressed doubts on Thursday about Sept. 11 legislation they forced on President Barack Obama, saying the new law allowing lawsuits against Saudi Arabia could be narrowed to ease concerns about its effect on Americans abroad.

A day after a rare overwhelming rejection of a presidential veto, the first during Obama's eight years in the White House, the Republican leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives opened the door to fixing the law as they blamed the Democratic president for not consulting them adequately.

"I do think it is worth further discussing," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, acknowledging that there could be "potential consequences" of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, known as JASTA.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Congress might have to "fix" the legislation to protect U.S. troops in particular.

See images of President Bush on 9/11

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Newly-released photos of President Bush on 9/11 (BI)
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Newly-released photos of President Bush on 9/11 (BI)

President George W. Bush participates in a reading demonstration on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

Dan Bartlett, deputy assistant to the president, points to news footage of the attacks while President Bush listens to new security information.

(Photo via US National Archives)

President Bush watches television coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center during a briefing in the classroom.

President Bush takes notes as he listens to news coverage of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

President Bush calls New York Gov. George Pataki, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Vice President Dick Cheney. White House Chief of Staff Andy Card talks on a cellphone.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

President Bush delivers remarks to the nation, regarding the terrorist attacks on US soil, from the elementary school.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

A highway sign on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

President Bush watches television coverage of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center from his office aboard Air Force One.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

President Bush confers with White House Chief of Staff Andy Card in the president's stateroom.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

President Bush confers with staff by telephone, from his office aboard Air Force One, during the flight from Sarasota to Barksdale Air Force Base.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

President Bush talks on the telephone as senior staff huddle in his office.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

President Bush and his staff look out the windows of Air Force One at their F-16 escort while en route to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

An F-16 escorts Air Force One.

(Photo via US National Archives)

President Bush confers with, from left, Karl Rove, Andy Card, Dan Bartlett, and Ari Fleischer before delivering remarks on the World Trade Center disaster from the General Dougherty Conference Center at Barksdale Air Force Base.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

President Bush delivers remarks on the terrorist attacks before departing for Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

President Bush arrives at Offutt Air Force Base.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

President Bush, Admiral Richard Mies (left), and White House Chief of Staff Andy Card conduct a video teleconference at Offutt Air Force Base.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

President Bush and White House Counsel Harriet Miers aboard Air Force One.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

President Bush speaks with Ari Fleischer (left) and Karl Rove aboard Air Force One during the flight to Andrews Air Force Base.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

After departing Offutt Air Force Base for Washington, DC, President Bush talks on the phone with Vice President Dick Cheney from Air Force One.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice waits at the South Portico for President Bush to arrive at the White House.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

Counselor Karen Hughes and Counsel Alberto Gonzales follow President Bush into the Oval Office after his return to the White House.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

Working with his senior staff, President Bush reviews the speech that he will deliver to the nation in the evening.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

President Bush talks with Vice President Dick Cheney in the President's Emergency Operations Center.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

Laura Bush listens as her husband discusses the terrorist attacks with White House staff in the President's Emergency Operations Center.

(Photo via US National Archives)

President Bush and Laura Bush talk with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in the President's Emergency Operations Center.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

After returning to the White House, President Bush meets with, from left, Vice President Dick Cheney), Chief of Staff Andy Card, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Special Agent Carl Truscott of the US Secret Service in the President's Emergency Operations Center.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

President Bush reviews notes with Karen Hughes before addressing the nation from the Oval Office.

(Photo via US National Archives)

President Bush delivers his televised address.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

After addressing the nation, President Bush meets with his National Security Council in the President's Emergency Operations Center.

(Photo via The U.S. National Archives)

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Ryan did not give a time frame, but Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he thought JASTA could be addressed in Congress' "lame-duck" session after the Nov. 8 election.

The law grants an exception to the legal principle of sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism on U.S. soil, clearing the way for lawsuits seeking damages from the Saudi government. Riyadh denies longstanding suspicions that it backed the hijackers who attacked the United States in 2001.

Sept. 11 families lobbied intensely for the bill, getting it passed by the House days before the 15th anniversary of the 2001 attacks earlier this month after years of effort.

"We have to understand the political environment we're in right now and the tremendous support the 9/11 victims have in the United States," said Robert Jordan, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh is one of Washington's longest-standing and most important allies in the Middle East and part of a U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

SAUDI CONDEMNATION

The Saudis lobbied furiously against JASTA, and the Saudi foreign ministry condemned its passage in a statement on Thursday. "The erosion of sovereign immunity will have a negative impact on all nations, including the United States," said the statement, which was carried on state news agency SPA.

Still, the new law is not expected to have a lasting effect on the two countries' strategic relationship.

Saudi-U.S. ties have endured "multiple times of deep outrage" over 70 years, said Thomas Lippman of the Middle East Institute. "The two countries need each other as much today as they did before the day before yesterday," he said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest mocked lawmakers for shifting "within minutes" from overwhelmingly voting to override Obama's veto to wanting to change the law.

"I think what we've seen in the United States Congress is a pretty classic case of rapid onset buyer's remorse," Earnest told a White House briefing.

Corker said he had tried to work out a compromise with the White House, but Obama administration officials declined a meeting.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who championed JASTA in the Senate, said he was open to revisiting the legislation. "I'm willing to look at any proposal they make but not any that hurt the families," he said at a news conference.

He said he would oppose a suggestion that the measure be narrowed to only apply to the 2001 attacks on Washington and New York. "You know what that does? It tells the Saudis to go ahead and do it again, and we won't punish you," Schumer said.

Corker said another suggestion was establishing an international tribunal so experts could determine whether there was culpability. He said the Saudis were been willing to work on a compromise, and denied they had threatened retaliation.

Trent Lott, a former Republican Senate Majority Leader now at a Washington law firm lobbying for the Saudis, said attorneys would look carefully at JASTA's language.

"I do feel passionately this is a mistake for a variety of reasons, in terms of threats to troops, diplomats, sovereignty, there's serious problems here. Hopefully we can find a way to change the tenor of this," Lott said.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Susan Cornwell, David Morgan, Yara Bayoumy, David Alexander and Susan Heavey; editing by Grant McCool and Tom Brown)

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