While the two Democratic presidential candidates often spend time praising President Barack Obama on the campaign trail, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are opposing the White House’s efforts to kill a bill that would allow families of those killed in the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this year, would eliminate immunity for foreign governments that played a role in terrorist attacks on American soil. Saudi Arabia has warned that it will sell off billions in American assets if the bill passes, the New York Times reported, and the Obama administration has lobbied Congress to block the bill.
Clinton and Sanders each initially said they were not familiar with the legislation despite it being in the news for weeks. When the former secretary of state was asked about the issue on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, she said she would “have to look into it.”
“Obviously we've got to make anyone who participates in or supports terrorism pay a price. And we also have to be aware of any consequences that might affect Americans, either military or civilian, or our nation,” Clinton said.
Her campaign later released a statement that said families and terror victims need to “hold accountable those responsible. As president, she’d work to Congress on that end.”
Sanders similarly said he wanted to look at the legislation but then released a statement expressing strong support for the bill, which is co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican.
“I support legislation by Sen. Chuck Schumer that would allow Americans, including the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks, to use U.S. courts to determine if foreign entities are culpable for terrorist attacks in the United States and seek restitution for the damages and lives lost,” the Sanders statement said.
The Vermont senator also urged the Obama administration to “declassify the 28-page section of the 9/11 Commission Report on the potential sources of foreign support received by the hijackers.”
The Saudi Arabian government’s threat of economic retaliation has angered members of Congress and families of 9/11 victims in recent days. Families have also expressed frustration over Obama’s opposition to the 9/11 bill, the New York Daily News reported.
Families have been trying for years to convince the U.S. government to release the 28 pages of the report that Sanders mentioned, and now they see this attempt to block them from suing Saudi Arabia as the latest offense.
For Clinton and Sanders, the controversy over the 9/11 bill comes just before the crucial New York primary election, where they are each hoping to pull out a strong performance and prove that they have momentum going into the last stretch of nominating contests. Clinton so far has maintained her lead in the state, but Sanders has continued to gain ahead of the election Tuesday.