Override hangover: Bipartisan effort to fix JASTA emerges

When Congress issued its first-ever veto override in Barack Obama’s presidency, the White House called it “the single most embarrassing thing that the United States has done, possibly since 1983.” The 97-1 override vote certainly embarrassed Obama, who saw his twelfth veto go up in smoke with the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). According to Roll Call, however, the embarrassment may be stretching down both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, as Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill now admit that Obama may have had a point on sovereign immunity:

“I think it was an example of an issue we should have, on a bipartisan basis, talked about much earlier,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said at a Thursday press conference. “Everybody was aware of who the potential beneficiaries were, but nobody really focused on the potential downsides in terms of our international relationships.”…

South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters Wednesday that there are 20 senators discussing a “fix” to address the issue of sovereign immunity.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee said the number is higher. But both he and Graham acknowledged that reaching a final agreement to tweak the new law and pass it during the lame-duck session after the elections would be an uphill climb.

Even Chuck Schumer, one of the biggest JASTA proponents, said he’d be open to fixes on the bill. Steny Hoyer also noted that there were “valid concerns” about the way the bill was drafted. Why are they only discovering these “valid concerns” now, after passing the bill and going through the veto and override process?

Mitch McConnell tells Roll Call that he’s not saying it’s Obama, but … it’s Obama:

“I think it was just a ball dropped,” McConnell said. “I wish the president — I hate to blame everything on him and I don’t — but it would have been helpful had he, we, had a discussion about this much earlier than last week.”

He’s not the only one saying that, either. Corker told Roll Call that he had tried to get the White House engaged on JASTA early enough in the process to help bridge any gaps between the president and Congress. Both Schumer and John Cornyn, the other Senate sponsor of JASTA, agreed to the meeting. The White House blew Corker off. “There was no desire whatsoever to sit down and meet,” Corker recalls.

That fits a pattern of arrogance that has manifested itself from the first days of Obama’s presidency. He has largely avoided engagement with Congress, famously waiting until eighteen months had passed to sit down with then-Senate Minority Leader McConnell in a formal talk. Even his allies have complained about his arrogance and lack of engagement, especially in the days after Denocrats lost the House, and then lost the Senate four years later.

This case may be a reductio ad absurdum of what results from such high-handedness. Congress has considered JASTA for quite a while, so there was plenty of time for the White House to work with Congress to fix its flaws (and there seem to be a few). Instead, Obama couldn’t be bothered, so the bill passed in its present form — and only then did Obama start making the case against it. Now that Obama has taken an interest in doing his job, the potential land mines might get worked out, but only after a colossal waste of time and effort.

Once again, the veto override might be embarrassing, but it’s the White House with egg on its collective face, not the Senate.