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Obama vetoes bill allowing 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia

President Obama on Friday vetoed the bill that would allow families of 9/11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia. The measure, “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” (JASTA) would have removed sovereign immunity in U.S. courts from foreign governments that have not been designated as state sponsors of terrorism.

The president returned the bill to the Senate with a three-page letter in which he argued that enacting JASTA “would neither protect Americans from terrorist attacks nor improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks,” and it “would be detrimental to U.S. national interests.”  

The White House was also concerned that the measure would expose the U.S. to lawsuits by people from other countries. President Obama believes that U.S. service members, diplomats and American companies would face the risk of prosecution in foreign courts all over the world. 

Following the 9/11 attacks, the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil, the U.S. has provided financial compensation for victims and their families, conducted worldwide counterterrorism programs dedicated to finding and charging those responsible, the president wrote in the letter.

“I have continued and expanded upon these efforts, both to help victims of terrorism gain justice for the loss and suffering of their loved ones and to protect the United States from future attacks,” Mr. Obama argued. “The JASTA, however, does not contribute to these goals, does not enhance the safety of Americans from terrorist attacks, and undermines core U.S. interests. For these reasons, I must veto the bill.”

Congress votes to allow 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia

The fight isn’t over yet, though. Congress is expected to override the president’s veto for the first time in his administration. It not not clear how many votes the original House measure had, since it was passed by voice vote. Two-thirds of the House and Senate are needed to override the veto.

This is the president’s 12th veto, and Congress has unsuccessfully  attempted to override five of them, CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller notes. Mr. Obama is now tied with George W. Bush for the fewest vetoes since Warren Harding’s six vetoes during his brief presidency from 1921-1923.

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Tuesday that lawmakers’ recess would be delayed in order to hold the new vote, and “our assumption is that the veto will be overridden.” His counterpart in the House, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, also believes the votes are there. The measure has significant Democratic support, too. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, is a co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate, and the minority leader of the House, Nancy Pelosi, D-California, backs the measure.

“I’ve worked with these families for a very long time,” she told reporters Thursday, “and I think they should have their day in court.” While she thinks that Mr. Obama’s concerns are “very legitimate,” she said the families believe many of those concerns were addressed in the legislation. “I think it’s going to happen,” she said, referring to a congressional override of the veto. 

And Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, in a departure from the president, supports the bill, too. 

“Clinton continues to support the efforts by Senator Schumer and his colleagues in Congress to secure the ability of 9/11 families and other victims of terror to hold accountable those responsible,” a Clinton spokesperson said in a statement. “She would sign this legislation if it came to her desk.”

The Senate passed the bill in May, and the House approved the bill earlier this month, just before the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

CBS News’ Mark Knoller, Catherine Reynolds and Steven Portnoy contributed to this story