In his memoir, “The Long Game,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell entitled a chapter “Professor Obama.”
Kentucky’s senior senator makes clear how tedious he finds what he calls President Barack Obama’s soliloquies and says the president “talks down” even to colleagues. McConnell writes that, unlike his fellow Republican former House Speaker John Boehner, he never put down the phone when talking to the president to converse with someone else, but “on one occasion I did watch at least an inning of baseball.”
McConnell’s admission that he all but tuned out the president years ago makes it even more remarkable that last week McConnell blamed Obama for not adequately alerting Congress to the “potential consequences” of a new law that undermines the principle of sovereign immunity and puts U.S. military and intelligence personnel and diplomats at risk of being retaliated against in foreign courts.
Obama vetoed the bill, which had been sought by survivors of 9/11 victims who want to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for what they believe could be ties to the attackers.
In his veto message, Obama laid out several reasons for the veto, including creating a precedent that could lead to lawsuits in foreign courts against the U.S. government and straining relations with allies in the Middle East. But lawmakers from both parties overwhelmingly voted to override the president, the first time Congress has overridden an Obama veto — and then almost immediately started voicing regret.
“Everybody was aware of who the potential beneficiaries were but nobody really had focused on the downside in terms of our international relationships,” McConnell said.
Politico quotes McConnell as saying, “I told the president the other day that this is an example of an issue that we should have talked about much earlier.” Politico says they spoke the day the Senate, whose schedule McConnell controls, voted to override the veto.
If you’re wondering why Congress — with expert specialized staff, committees and great resources at its disposal —didn’t do its own research into the ramifications of the new law, well, good question.
By virtue of the United States’ size and reach, the principle of sovereign immunity protects this country more than any other. You could make an argument that U.S. government officials should have to answer in other countries for some of their more destructive covert actions — say in a court in Laos, where civilians are still being maimed and killed by bombs left over from the CIA’s secret war — but that’s not what Congress had in mind with this vote and override.
The House scheduled its vote on the very popular bill around the 15th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. It is a big election year, so we can assume politics and wanting to appear tough on terrorism had something to do with the strong bipartisan support for the bill.
It’s understandable that the 9/11 survivors want a chance to hear their questions and concerns raised in a court of law and for the guilty to be held accountable. Bringing the five 9/11 conspirators who are imprisoned at Guantanamo to trial in a federal court in this country, as other terrorist attackers have been, would have given the victims their day in court.
But Congress enacted a law blocking the suspects from being brought to this country and Obama backed down on his pledge to close Guantanamo. McConnell has been one of the most vocal opponents of trying terror suspects in this country. Not until 2020 — 19 years after the attacks — are the alleged conspirators expected to be tried before special judges in Cuba.
McConnell has said Congress should revisit the bad law it just enacted. If it’s not too painful, he could read Obama’s veto message for pointers.