It took the Senate seven years, eight months, and eight days to deliver its first veto override vote of Barack Obama’s presidency — but it was a doozy. On Friday, Obama had vetoed a popular, bipartisan bill to allow victims of the 9/11 attacks and their survivors the ability to sue Saudi Arabia for damages and to prove they had connections to the attack. The Senate voted 97-1 for the override, with the only Senator defending Obama to shortly join him in retirement:
The Senate on Wednesday voted 97-1 to override President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill allowing families of victims of terrorism on U.S. soil to sue foreign governments linked to the attacks.
It marked the chamber’s first override of an Obama veto. Lawmakers in favor of reversing the president’s position easily mustered the required supermajority of more than two-thirds of senators present, with Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada casting the only no vote.
The White House called the override “embarrassing” … which is accurate, but not in the way they mean:
BREAKING: White House calls Senate override of 9/11 Saudi bill the most embarrassing action by lawmakers in years
— Reuters Politics (@ReutersPolitics) September 28, 2016
It’s true that the override is embarrassing, but it embarrasses Obama rather than the legislators. Tim Kaine managed to avoid making matters worse for Obama by skipping the vote altogether, and also avoiding a potentially damaging spot for Hillary Clinton. She would have had to choose between protecting Obama’s flank or coming onto the side of the 9/11 victims, and with the election looking close, Hillary needs Obama more than he needs her. This way the campaign can take a pass on this question. (Notable: Bernie Sanders was the other no-show.)
The House will take this up later in the day, but don’t expect the outcome to be any different. Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan both back the override.
Both chambers have more pressing and partisan fights to resolve, namely over the budget. Without a funding authorization by Friday, the federal government will start shutting down its offices on Saturday. The principle bones of contention have been funding to fight Zika and the Flint, Michigan water crisis. This afternoon, Reid endorsed a compromise that will likely pass in both chambers:
The Nevada Democrat said he has discussed an agreement on assistance for the Michigan city of Flint with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and he has received assurances from leadership that money for Flint’s water contamination crisis will be provided in a lame-duck session of Congress after the elections.
“I’m convinced that there’s going to be help for Flint in the lame duck,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “Now I feel very comfortable.” Fiscal 2016 funding runs out after Friday and members of Congress have been negotiating a stopgap spending bill that would run until Dec. 9.
Leaders are nearing the endgame of a deal that would allow a 10-week stopgap spending measure to pass both chambers this week, Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said.
With Democratic leaders expressing comfort moving forward with a CR without Flint aid, enough Senate Democrats should be able to join Republicans in advancing the must-pass government funding bill.
We’ll see, but there’s more drama in the potential for a shutdown than there is in the override.
Update: As expected, the House followed up by approving the first veto override of the Obama presidency:
Congress approved the first successful override of a presidential veto from President Obama on Wednesday when the House joined the Senate in voting against Obama’s objection to a bill which would allow 9/11 family members to sue Saudi Arabia for aiding or financing the attacks.
The override cleared the Senate earlier today, in a 97-1 vote in favor of the override, well above the two-thirds majority needed to overcome the president’s objection. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid cast the lone “no” vote. Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., did not vote.
The House vote was 348-77.
Obama, CIA director John Brennan, and others warn that the US has more to lose from devaluing sovereign immunity than others, especially the Saudis. They may be right, but it’s also clear that they have done little to answer the concerns of the 9/11 victims and survivors. Otherwise, this bill wouldn’t be necessary — or so popular on a bipartisan basis, either.