WASHINGTON, Sept 29 (Reuters) - The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Thursday he had tried to find a compromise before Congress’ rare override of a presidential veto of a bill that allows relatives of Sept. 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia.
Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said he had spoken twice during the weekend with Secretary of State John Kerry, who had opposed the “Justice Against Supports of Terrorism Act” known as JASTA.
Corker said he and Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the committee’s ranking Democrat, had tried to set up a meeting with White House officials and senators who supported the bill to find a compromise that would ease concerns that the legislation could threaten U.S. diplomatic interests.
“We agreed the best way to resolve this was to have a meeting... and see if another option could be developed,” Corker said at the start of a committee hearing on Syria.
Congress on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected President Barack Obama’s veto of the legislation, the first veto override of his eight-year-long presidency.
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 has denied longstanding suspicions that it backed the hijackers who attacked the United States in 2001. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
The White House reacted angrily to the override. Obama said on CNN that he thought lawmakers had been afraid to take a “hard” vote so close to the Nov. 8 election. A White House spokesman said the 97-1 vote to override in the Senate was the “most embarrassing” thing the Senate had done in decades.
Corker rejected that criticism, saying that White House officials had declined a meeting.
“The outburst yesterday from the White House over what happened is remarkable when they wouldn’t even sit down to meet with the Secretary of State and us to try and create a solution to a problem that they felt was real,” he said.
White House officials did not have immediate comment on Thursday.
Corker and Cardin circulated a letter signed by at least 28 senators, asking JASTA’s two Senate sponsors, Republican John Cornyn of Texas and Democrat Charles Schumer of New York, to work with them in the future to address potential consequences of the bill for national security. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, editing by Grant McCool)