Beware of bipartisan grandstanding

I wouldn’t call the following statement an iron rule, but it’s a good rule of thumb: When congressional Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly agree on legislation, the legislation is probably bad.

That’s the case, in my view, with the bipartisan legislation that enables 9/11 victims and their families to sue the government of Saudi Arabia. Nowadays, “bipartisan” often means that one party supported a bill unanimously and managed to pick up a handful of votes from the other party. But the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) — the legislation enabling 9/11 suits against the Saudis — received such overwhelming support from both parties that Congress easily overrode President Obama’s veto.

The Senate voted 97-1 to override it. The margin in the House was 348–77.

But JASTA is a bad idea. As Andy McCarthy says:

It foolishly delegates the delicate political duty of conducting foreign relations to the courts; it undermines the important concept of sovereign immunity; and it encourages reciprocal foreign-government action against U.S. political officials and military personnel.

The likely consequence of JASTA will be, in McCarthy’s words, “to spur other countries to enact laws allowing their citizens to sue the United States — and maybe even criminal laws allowing the arrest of current and former American government officials (including military personnel) — for actions taken in defense of our country and pursuit of our interests.”

Thus, notwithstanding the sympathy we all feel for the 9/11 families, Obama was right to veto JASTA. For once, he was upholding U.S. interests and trying to make it more difficult, not less, for our enemies to do us harm. As McCarthy puts it:

Real security depends on maintaining the international system of sovereign states that respect each other’s sovereignty. It is the transnational progressives who envision a post-sovereign world in which unelected judges and international organizations call the tune, undermining the prerogatives of nationhood and democratic self-determination.

After displaying their lack of seriousness by overriding the veto, key Republicans tried to cover their tracks. Sen. Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, expressed “a desire to amend what occurred yesterday [with the veto override] to put us in a better place.”

Speaker Ryan said “I’d like to think that there’s a way we could fix so that our service members do not have legal problems overseas, while still protecting the rights of the 9/11 victims.” But if there is a way, the House should have found it before legislating. If there isn’t, the Speaker should have faced reality instead of wishing for options that don’t exist.

Most disturbing of all was Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s statement that “nobody really had focused on the potential downside in terms of our international relationships; I think it was just a ball dropped.”

Actually, as Max Boot points out, Obama warned about precisely this obvious “downside” in his veto message. With Election Day approaching, Congress chose to grandstand anyway.