Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) at the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cedar Rapids, Iowa April 11, 2014.
Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9/Reuters

GOP leaders flunk Governing 101 test on 9/11 bill

The Associated Press had a report yesterday on just how little the Republican-led Congress has done over the last two years, and the criticism is, to be sure, richly deserved. But there’s one thing the conservative House and Senate accomplished with striking efficiency.

Though members are starting to think that might have been a mistake, too.

The bill has an odd name: JASTA, which stands for the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.” The point of the legislation is to allow Americans, most notably the loved ones of 9/11 victims, to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged al Qaeda support in advance of the 2001 attacks. As Vox explained this week, President Obama has long urged Congress not to pass the bill, arguing that it would undermine the principle of “sovereign immunity” and put the United States at risk of prosecution in foreign courts.

Congress, afraid of an election-year backlash for standing opposite 9/11 families, passed JASTA anyway – with sweeping, bipartisan majorities. The president vetoed the bill, once more urging lawmakers not to be too hasty with a complex measure that could have lasting international consequences. This week, bipartisan majorities in Congress once again ignored the warnings, and for the first time in the Obama era, members easily overrode a veto, making the bill law.

Incredibly, after already creating the law, Republican leaders said yesterday they may need to correct the mistake they were so eager to make. Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday:
The two top Republicans in Congress said they’re prepared to rewrite legislation allowing victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia – less than 24 hours after Congress took the extraordinary step of overriding President Barack Obama’s veto of the measure to make it law.

Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the measure could have unintended consequences – including the fact that it could leave U.S. soldiers open to retaliation by foreign governments.
Ryan conceded Congress should look for a “fix” to the new law to protect American service members from “legal problems” while serving abroad. McConnell added his new law “may” carry “some unintended ramifications.” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who criticized the bill before voting for it, added, “There will be an attempt to narrow the effect of what we’ve done.”

Congressional Republicans this week followed an astounding trajectory: they (1) abruptly passed a law while ignoring substantive objections; (2) stopped to think about the new law after the fact; and (3) blamed the White House for not doing more to stop Congress from acting irresponsibly.

No, really, GOP leaders actually blamed Obama for their carelessness.
Republicans said Thursday the White House should have done more to alert them earlier in the process of the bill’s possible consequences.

“That was a good example, it seems to me, of failure to communicate early about the potential consequences of a piece of legislation that was obviously very popular,” Mr. McConnell said Thursday.
Let’s set the record straight. The president and other administration officials started warning lawmakers about the consequences of the bill back in April. In the months that followed, Obama outlined the problems with the proposal in writing and in great detail.

Yesterday, the GOP line was, in effect, “We didn’t know what we were doing. The president should have told us we were making a mistake.”

Except, he did tell them. For that matter, even if Obama had done a personalized presentation for literally every member, since when do congressional Republicans listen to the president’s policy guidance?

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest yesterday called the entire episode an “abject embarrassment” and marveled at Congress’ “ignorance” about the law lawmakers wrote themselves.

When looking for examples of this Congress failing to taking governing seriously, keep this story in mind.

Bob Corker, Congress, Foreign Policy, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and September 11th

GOP leaders flunk Governing 101 test on 9/11 bill