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House Approves Bill Allowing 9/11 Victims To Sue Saudi Arabia


The House approved legislation today to allow 9/11 victims and their families to sue the government of Saudi Arabia. It passed the GOP-led House with overwhelming support, despite a veto threat from President Obama and strong opposition from the Saudis. NPR's congressional reporter, Susan Davis, has more.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: As the nation prepares to mark the 15th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the House of Representatives began their day with a show of remembrance and ended it with an act of never forgetting.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Stand beside her, and guide her.

DAVIS: Lawmakers gathered on the Capitol steps this morning to pray and to sing "God Bless America," just as they did 15 years ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The bill is passed. And without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid on the table.


DAVIS: That's the sound of 9/11 families cheering from the chamber as the House approved the bill. The legislation gives them the right to sue the Saudi government in U.S. courts for any role it may have played in the attacks. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals, but the Saudi government has never been directly implicated. The Saudis have already threatened swift economic retaliation if it becomes law, and President Obama has threatened a veto. The administration says it could expose the U.S. to legal risks abroad. New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, who helped write the bill, dismissed those concerns.


JERROLD NADLER: Some critics of this bill have argued that, if we pass it, other nations may retaliate by enacting similar laws that could subject Americans or the United States itself to liability in those countries. I find this argument unpersuasive. The United States does not engage in international terrorist activity.

DAVIS: Another bill sponsor, New York Republican Peter King, said the legislation sends a clear message to nations that harbor terrorists.


PETER KING: Justice must be done, and we want to make sure that there are no more 9/11s. This is one more step we can take to show foreign governments they cannot step aside. They cannot walk away if something is carried out while they're sort of looking the other way and make believe it's not happening.

DAVIS: The bill sailed through the Senate in May. Supporters believe they have the votes to override a veto if it comes to that. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.