Barack Obama will on Friday veto legislation allowing 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia, risking public outrage and the first congressional override of his presidency.
The White House confirmed Thursday that Obama would veto the legislation — unanimously passed by Congress — allowing 9/11 families to launch civil suits against Riyadh.
“We believe this is a bad bill,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “It’s why the president’s going to veto it.”
The White House argues the legislation would undermine sovereign immunity and potentially expose US officials and service members to litigation.
That technical legal argument will struggle to be heard over emotive accusations that Obama is putting relations with Saudi Arabia before 9/11 victims.
Republican nominee Donald Trump has already tried to paint Obama and his would-be successor Hillary Clinton as weak on terrorism.
Clinton has preemptively voiced support for congressional efforts “to secure the ability of 9/11 families and other victims of terror to hold accountable those responsible,” according to Jesse Lehrich, a campaign spokesman.
But with the election less than 50 days away, the Republican-led Congress will try to deal Obama a significant political blow by overriding his veto.
Such overrides are rare and this one would show the White House to be almost cripplingly weak as Obama tries to tick off remaining legislative goals in the twilight of his presidency.
Obama has issued 11 vetoes so far in his presidency, none of which have garnered the two-thirds opposition needed for an override.
But Republicans will need the backing of Democratic lawmakers, who the White House is lobbying furiously.
Congressional sources said Thursday that White House appeals to security minded senators like Dianne Feinstein may have been enough to avoid a override vote.
Families of 9/11 victims have campaigned for the law — convinced that the Saudi government had a hand in the attacks that killed almost 3,000 people.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.
Declassified documents showed US intelligence had multiple suspicions about links between the Saudi government and the attackers, but no link has definitively been proven.