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Schumer on 9/11 Bill: 'If the Saudis Were Complicit, They Should Pay the Price'

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) insisted today that his caucus is largely supportive of the 9/11 lawsuit bill detested by the White House, while Republicans are responsible for “pushback” on the legislation.

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. The bill would allow families of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue countries that support terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. The bill is also forward-looking: if groups like Hamas or ISIS kill an American on American soil, the bill would enable victims to sue any sponsors of the groups in federal court.

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) are sponsors of the bill.

“It’s very simple. If the Saudis were complicit, if the Saudi government was complicit in terrorism, then they should pay the price for two reasons. One, to recompense the families, they’ll never get their loved ones back, but at least some measure of justice. But second, it sends a warning to future government, if you’re complicit in terrorism, you’re going to pay the price and a trial will determine that,” Schumer told reporters today outside a closed policy luncheon on Capitol Hill. “The Saudis — if the Saudis were not complicit in terrorism, they have nothing to fear in the trial.”

Of the bill, Reid said, “I support it and most everyone in the caucus supports it.”

“They don’t particularly like it, but that’s OK,” he added of the Obama administration’s opposition. “My personal feeling, and I can go into more detail if anyone wants, but I think that we should move forward on this legislation. I hope we can.”

One of those in the GOP caucus who has expressed opposition to the bill is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Cornyn told reporters outside of his caucus’ policy luncheon that he’s working with Graham, who “is concerned with the way that this administration has treated our allies, and particularly Saudi Arabia, as a result of the misguided Iran nuclear deal.”

“And now the president seems to want to use the leverage of the 9/11 families in order to somehow mollify or cure that rift that the president has created himself as a result of the Iranian nuclear deal. I think that’s entirely inappropriate,” Cornyn said. “And as I tried to point out, we actually need to deter people from facilitating and financing terrorist attacks on our own soil.”

“This is a very narrow provision which only has to do with terrorist attacks on our own soil. It goes back to 1976 when Congress first passed the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act. It creates a very narrow provision which may or may not apply to Saudi Arabia. But my attitude is let the chips fall where they may. Let’s bring justice to the victims and the families — the 9/11 families and deter to the extent we can terrorist attacks on our own soil.”

Schumer countered arguments that the lawsuits could be turned on the United States by stressing “this is narrowly drawn.”

“It only deals with acts of terrorism, and terrorism is narrowly defined. This was — as you know, the courts limited this kind of case several years ago, and that’s why we need the legislation, because of a court change,” Schumer said. “Before that, there weren’t huge amounts of suits, there wasn’t — you know, there weren’t suits against the United States, et cetera.”