Rep. Steve Israel (D—Huntington) is in the final months of his 16-year tenure as the senior Democratic Party lawmaker from Long Island. Israel, who represents the Roslyn area in Washington, was part of the congressional majority that recently overrode President Barack Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).
In doing so, Israel cited the human toll that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 inflicted on families in his district. The legislation allows families of the victims of the terrorist attack to sue foreign government, including the monarchy of Saudi Arabia. Most of the terrorists from that day were Saudi nationals. However, the United States has long enjoyed a strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, often involving arms sales and so the legislation was vetoed by the president, but easily overridden. Leaders of both parties in both houses voted to override the veto.
Israel was an original cosponsor of the legislation that passed the House of Representatives early last month.
“Fifteen years ago my congressional district lost 200 men and women in the attacks on the World Trade Center,” Israel said. “Every one of those families deserves the opportunity to seek justice in the courtroom.
“I was proud to cosponsor this legislation because I feel strongly that we must hold accountable those who commit or support terrorist attacks in the United States,” he added. “Sept. 11 families will now be able to continue the healing process by seeking justice for their loved ones, and I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for upholding our promise to never forget them.”
From the other side of the aisle, Rep. Peter King (R—Seaford) also voted for the override.
“The override of President Obama’s veto of JASTA is a victory for 9/11 families and the rule of law,” King tweeted. Earlier, the congressman, who is the dean of the Long Island delegation, criticized the president’s “terrible” decision to veto the bill, while calling for an override that, in fact, did happen.
In the United States Senate, the vote to override the veto was 97-1, with Senator Minority Leader Harry Reid (D—NV) casting the lone vote upholding the veto. However, according to published reports, congressional leaders had second thoughts about the legislation. Namely, they expressed concerns about threats to Americans abroad as an ugly response to the ability for Americans to take legal action against those same governments. Those reports added that Congress may reconvene in November to consider changes to JASTA.
In the senate, a primary sponsor of the bill was Sen. Charles Schumer (D—NY). According to published reports, Schumer said that he was willing to consider changes to the legislation, but none that would weaken the bill.
“It has to be something that doesn’t…limit the right for these families to get their day in court and justice,” he told Roll Call.
As with Israel, Schumer pointed out the personal aspects of the bill.
“I’ve sat and worked with these families for five years,” he added in that same interview. “I feel their pain. Not close to the amount because I didn’t lose a loved one the way they did, but this is about justice.”