One of Spoiler Alerts’ running themes in recent years has been the ways in which the executive branch has learned to bypass Congress on foreign policy, and how that has vested a disturbing amount of power into the office of the president. This has come through in recent discussions of just how much damage Donald Trump could wreak on the country and the world if elected.
A natural response to this is to call for Congress and President Obama to restore the balance of power between legislative and executive branches. Constitutionally, this sounds like a great idea, something that would forge a powerful consensus between small-government conservatives on the right and foreign policy doves on the left.
There’s just one teensy, tiny problem with this idea: It would give Congress greater responsibility over foreign policy, and Congress doesn’t handle foreign responsibility terribly well.
For the latest example of legislative fecklessness, let’s turn to the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a bill that allows 9/11 families to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for any culpability it had in those terrorist attacks. Back in the spring I blogged about how, regardless of its emotional power, this bill wasn’t a very good idea. Since then, well-respected international lawyers have said the same thing in greater detail. The British government pointed out that the bill “could allow hostile states to take legal action against the U.S. and allies such as Britain.”
So it’s not surprising that Obama vetoed the bill, warning that JASTA would, “among other things, remove sovereign immunity in U.S. courts from foreign governments that are not designated state sponsors of terrorism.” But for the first time in Obama’s presidency, Congress overrode his veto in bipartisan fashion, turning JASTA into law.
Hooray for congressional power! Sure, Arab governments did not react well, but overriding that veto must have felt damn good!
And now we get to the morning after, in which Congress realizes what it has done. From the Hill’s Jordain Carney:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) opened the door Thursday to changing legislation that allows families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. court.