Earlier this week, Congress overrode President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, the first override in his term. The bill — which was passed with 9/11 victims in mind — allows American citizens to sue any foreign nation for damages they believe were caused by terrorist attacks. Despite the many concerns regarding the ramifications of this bill that were expressed by the White House, national security agencies and companies and diplomats across the globe, it was signed into law with overwhelming majorities. Leaders from both houses, just days after the veto override, are now indicating that there are indeed serious issues with the law and that they would explore ways of tweaking it. These comments reveal Congress’s crippling ineptitude and only fuel the public’s immense dissatisfaction with their legislators.
While discussing the bill with reporters following the override, Republican leaders went so far as to suggest that President Obama was partly at fault because he failed to timely communicate the problems with the legislation. But it is not his job to stand in the middle of the Capitol and lecture politicians on the nuances of foreign policy — ultimately, only Congress is accountable for bills they draft and the effects they have. Furthermore, members chose to ignore reports which predicted adverse impacts of JASTA from a number of parties, including vocal concerns from Democratic representatives. These Democrats, however, are not to be excused. In irresponsibly voting in favor of the override, they dismissed Obama’s authority as party leader and, more importantly, Diplomat-in-Chief.
No matter what new details emerge regarding this ordeal, one fact will be clear: Congress did not fully consider the effects of the legislation they drafted before passing it or even before overriding it. This notion alone should infuriate the public, sending them to the polls to replace each and every one of the 97 Senators and 348 Representatives that voted in favor. Complaining about a lack of communication is not how the United States Congress — the model legislature for democracies around the world — should conduct business.
While no politicians want to appear as if they are against 9/11 victims in an election year, the JASTA is not in the best interests of the country, and passing it is a betrayal of their constituencies. Democrat Harry Reid — who is not running for reelection this year — was the only Senator who voted against the override. By imprudently submitting to the public and then retroactively acknowledging problems with their bill rather than educating their constituents on its drawbacks in the first place, Congress builds on its reputation as an incompetent and
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, October 3rd print edition. Email Akshay Prabhushankar at [email protected]