Monday, October 3, 2016

In their blind opposition to Obama, Congress ignores his warnings, overrides his veto, and now our soldiers and diplomats are in danger.

This ranks high up on the list of perfidious acts of blind hatred and opposition to our duly elected president by a congress that cannot see past their prejudice against someone with President Obama's combination of intellect, judgment, temperament, and skin color.

Yes, I'm saying what you think I'm saying.   Racial prejudice -- implicit bias, if you want to be kind -- has to be at the bottom of this Republican congress's stupidity and utter determination not to let this president have any success, if they can possibly stop it.

This is a bit complicated, so stay with me for a moment.  We all know that many of the 9/11 hijackers, including Osama bin Laden himself, were Saudi Arabian nationals.  There are rumors and some evidence that a lot of Saudi money backed them and later al Qaeda as well.    So the families of the 9/11 victims have wanted to be able to sue the Saudi government.    President Obama has resisted that, because that would open up our own military and diplomatic personnel to similar court proceedings from other countries, as well as possible physical attacks or arrest by foreign governments.

Nevertheless, Congress went forward with a bill called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).   Recognizing the risk to us that this would open up, President Obama vetoed the bill.   Then Congress this week voted overwhelmingly, with bipartisan support, to override his veto -- the first of his presidency.

And now, according to political writer Jason Linkins of Huffington Post, they are having morning-after remorse.   House Majority Leader Paul Ryan thinks maybe they might just need to tweek the bill "to protect our service members overseas from any kind of legal ensnarements that occur, any kind of retribution.”

You see, what the bill did, and what Obama warned them about and why he vetoed it, was that to allow our citizens to sue other governments, we have to waive sovereign immunity protections.   And that sets a precedent that other nations can also use against us -- like when we invade Iraq or bomb Syria.   It's why we left no personnel in Iraq when we pulled out.  Despite Republicans blaming Obama for that, it was George W. Bush who negotiated the exit date;  and the Iraqi government would not agree to give our soldiers immunity if we stayed longer.  Republicans ignore this when they blame Obama for the chaos in Iraq now, saying he should have left some troops there.

OK.    Now it gets interesting.   In their morning-after remorse, Republicans are learning from their new leader, Donald Trump.   Never admit a mistake or acknowledge a failure.  Rather than accept responsibility, Republicans are trying to blame it on . . . wait for it . . . on President Obama.   Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called this debacle "a good example of . . . a failure to communicate early about the potential consequences of a piece of legislation [that] was obviously very popular."

In other words, they were rashly rushing forward to ride the wave of popular support for the bill, and it's the president's fault that he didn't explain the consequences of their own bill to them before they passed it.

The trouble with that is obvious.   It's their bill;  they own it and are responsible.   But that's not the issue.   The real truth is that President Obama DID try to tell them.   In a July 15, 2016 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained to reporters why they were opposed to JASTA.

Earnest:  ". . . [T]he way that this law is written could open up U.S. companies and even potentially U.S. personnel to vulnerabilities when they’re engaged in actions or doing business or conducting official government work overseas.  There is an important principle related to sovereign immunity. . . .  So we believe that’s a principle worth protecting. . . .  a specific principle that benefits the United States and private U.S. interests in countries all around the globe."

OK.   But that was a press secretary speaking to reporters.   Did the White House directly communicate this to Congress?   At another press briefing on September 23, 2016, Earnest discussed attempts by the White House to get congress to address these concerns about preserving the immunity of our own people.   He said "that’s the nature of the conversations that we’re having with members of Congress on Capitol Hill."

Congress went ahead anyway and passed the bill without finding the solution, and in his letter accompanying his veto, President Obama wrote to the Senate:

*     *     *     *     *
Veto Message from the President ― S.2040:


"I am returning herewith without my approval S. 2040, the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” (JASTA), which would, among other things, remove sovereign immunity in U.S. courts from foreign governments that are not designated state sponsors of terrorism. . . . 

". . . . JASTA would upset longstanding international principles regarding sovereign immunity . . . could have serious implications for U.S. national interests. . . . sovereign immunity principles protect our Nation and its Armed Forces, officials, and assistance professionals, from foreign court proceedings. These principles also protect U.S. Government assets from attempted seizure by private litigants abroad. . . . 

" . . . .  Enactment of JASTA could encourage foreign governments to act reciprocally and allow their domestic courts to exercise jurisdiction over the United States or U.S. officials ― including our men and women in uniform ― for allegedly causing injuries overseas via U.S. support to third parties. . . . "
*     *     *     *     *

Nothing about this concern was a secret.  Huffington Post put out a podcast on it last week.  And it was discussed on NPR well ahead of the veto override.   Heck, even I knew about the problem without hearing any of those discussions.   So congressional leaders certainly should have known the consequences.

But Republican House and Senate leaders won't take the responsibility of their own rash actions that they were adequately warned about.  Either they don't respect President Obama enough to pay attention to his warnings.    Or they understood fully and their game plan was this:  to force the hated Obama to veto a bill that's very popular with a public unaware of the consequences.  Then they would override his veto, so they could rush home to campaign on having stood up to Obama, who was siding with a foreign Muslim government over the American people.

It worked for a day -- and then somebody began reporting on it, and Ryan and McConnell had to admit there was a problem with the bill as written (as Obama had warned).  So now it's amusing to watch them squirm in their own backfire stew -- and, like their great orange leader, try to blame it on somebody else, namely President Obama.   What?  He didn't make you listen to him the first time, so it's his fault?   It just won't wash, folks.    And it gives voters one more reason to vote Republicans out of office -- and send Donald Trump back to his gold-plated toys.


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