Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

A 14 percent job approval rating for this Congress is much too high

As was perfectly predictable, GOP leaders in Congress are horrified by what they've done in passing a bill allowing 9/11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia. Among other things, the legislation opens the door for other nations to start suing the U.S. government for things done by our soldiers and diplomats overseas, in foreign courts sometimes far less honest than our own.

President Obama of course vetoed the bill, and in doing so he explained the reasons it was a terrible idea. Defense Secretary Ash Carter also told Congress it was a terrible idea. After his veto, Obama even sent the CIA director to Capitol Hill to plead with them not to override his decision.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell led their chambers in overriding the veto anyway, the first override of Obama's presidency.  As Sen. Bob Corker explained, the Senate passed the bill thinking that there was no way that the House would pick it up and vote on it before Congress went into recess, but Ryan allowed a vote on it anyway.

Now, after it has been passed into law, Ryan is worried.

“I would like to think there’s a way we can fix so that our service members do not have legal problems overseas while still protecting the rights of the 9/11 victims,” he told reporters, more than a little late to be expressing such concerns.

McConnell admitted to similar second thoughts.

"Everybody was aware of who the potential beneficiaries were, but nobody really focused on the potential downsides in terms of our international relationships,” he said, ignoring the fact that the Obama administration had been making just that argument to anybody who would listen.

But here's my favorite part: Having admitted their error, you know who they blame? They passed the bill, they overrode Obama's veto, and you know who they blame?

They blame Obama. He wasn't convincing enough. He wasn't clear enough. As Bloomberg reports, "Republicans said the White House didn’t make a forceful case, putting themselves in the awkward position of blaming the president for a bill they enacted into law over Obama’s veto."

Just to be clear, a lot of Democrats voted for it too. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York was a co-sponsor, along with John Conyers of Texas. Few people of either party wanted to cast a vote that opponents could depict as a vote against the victims of 9/11 and in favor of the Saudis.

But in such circumstances, it's the responsibility of congressional leadership -- that's Ryan and McConnell -- to make sure that such votes never get to the stage where their members are put in that position. That is their job. Even after Obama's veto, all they had to do was find a way to make sure an override vote never occurred before recess, and there would be no problem.

They couldn't manage even that. It's craven incompetence, and no, that is not Obama's fault.




Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.