The House passed a bill Friday that will allow families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in US courts over its alleged involvement in the attacks.
The bill, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, will authorize US courts to hear cases against foreign states for injuries or death resulting from an act of international terrorism by reducing the states' scope of foreign sovereign immunity.
The bill, which was passed in the Senate in May, cleared the house by voice vote on Friday, two days before the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. President Obama is likely to veto the controversial bill.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in July that the administration was opposed to the bill because it "could open up" US companies and personnel "to vulnerabilities when they’re engaged in actions or doing business or conducting official government work overseas."
He said the White House was concerned about protecting sovereign immunity which benefited the US and its interests in different countries.
"There is an important principle related to sovereign immunity," Earnest said. "And when you’re the most powerful country in the world, you’re invested in the idea of sovereign immunity, given how deeply the United States is involved in so many other countries."
In April, Earnest said it was "difficult to imagine a scenario in which the President would sign the bill as it's currently drafted." He said that since 9/11 the Saudis were focused on efforts to counter extremist ideology and the two countries were working together to fight terrorism.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called on Obama to sign the bill into law after the vote, saying, “Today’s vote sends an unmistakable message that we should combat terrorism with every tool we have, and that the families of those lost in attacks like that on September 11th should have every means at their disposal to seek justice."
Deputy National Security Adviser, Ben Rhodes, told reporters in April that while the White House was "sympathetic to the concerns of 9/11 families," they objected to the bill's principle of undermining sovereign immunity.
However, the bill's proponents said it would fix a law that has shielded foreign countries to finance and enable large-scale terrorism. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said in a statement Wednesday, "The victims of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks on US soil have suffered much pain and heartache, but they should not be denied justice, and so, I am telling the House: pass this bill."
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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