WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor before voting to override President Barack Obama’s veto of S. 2040, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA):
“Mr. President, I have met over the course of the last several days with the victims of 9/11 – like many people in this body have – and I don't think I've ever met a more gracious, genuine, sincere group of people. And I know that they have sought some way of expressing their desire to seek justice in what happened on 9/11.
“Again, I could not – we all have constituents who come up and meet with us, these people certainly have not been from the state of Tennessee – but I have to say they presented their case in a way that is most heartfelt, and I have tremendous empathy for all that they and their families have gone through.
“Yesterday, on the way outside the building, a gentleman came up to me and recognized me and told me about sitting in his home and seeing the planes go overhead and seeing them kill his wife. He talked to me about the conversation he had with the F.B.I. agent, who now they've gotten to know, about what had happened.
“Senator Schumer and Senator Cornyn have done a remarkable job in shepherding through this piece of legislation, and I give them tremendous credit for what they have done.
“I do want to say [that] I don't think the Senate, nor House, has functioned in an appropriate manner as it relates to a very important piece of legislation. We've had no hearings in the United States Senate this Congress. And we've had no vote, no vote whatsoever of record on this piece of legislation. As a matter of fact, today will be the first vote. There is no doubt about the fact that we went through the unanimous consent process and no one objected, no one objected. No doubt that registered our yes votes, if you will, without a record on this piece of legislation.
“Mr. President, yesterday, I brought my niece and nephew through this building before it opened, and I told them about the fact that there's a place in the back here that from time to time I've gone to pray before a big vote and how in recent times there haven't been many votes that have been that decisive or that have weighed on me as much as this vote today. Today is – today is one of those votes.
“I have tremendous concerns about the sovereign immunity procedures that could be set in place by other countries as a result of this vote. I do. And for that reason I've circulated a letter. I've circulated a letter that lays out those concerns and numbers of people within this body have signed that letter, and they have said that we feel there could be, in fact, unintended consequences as a result of what we know is going to happen today.
“I've seen our country’s standing in the world be eroded over the course of the last several years, and I know there's debate over that. In my opinion, I've seen our standing erode. And I'm concerned about the consequences that over time this vote will have on that.
“At the same time, I believe that the victims of 9/11 do deserve an outlet, a way themselves of seeking justice in this particular case. This to me is not about Saudi Arabia. It's about us. And I don't think the Senate has yet gotten it right as it relates to the best way for the 9/11 victims to seek that justice.
“I know this bill provides them a way for that to occur. I don't think it's perfect. I think that a better way might have been to establish some type of tribunal where experts could come in and really identify what actually happened on discretionary decisions that took place within the country of Saudi Arabia.
“We make decisions around here that we believe are to be in our national interest.
“I've had tremendous difficulty with this one. And that's the reason we've generated a letter of concern to the two sponsors of this bill who have handled this in the manner that they have. They've done an exemplary job. The Senate has not functioned quite in the manner that it should, nor has the House, and I think we end up today with an imperfect solution.
“I have concerns about this legislation not having a waiver. I have concerns about the fact that over time if this continues to build upon itself, we as a body, a body that to me could use some great strengthening. We have a body that to me is in the process of building itself back to the place that it ought to be, and we've done that over the last couple of years. But let's face it. The institution of the United States Senate itself has diminished over time, and we've got work to do to overcome that.
“So on balance, I think this bill has problems. I think that we will be dealing with overcoming this over time. And I know numbers of us have joined together to express that. But I do think that to be consistent and to give the victims who have lost so much an opportunity to express themselves in this way is the appropriate thing to do at this time.
“I have read the concerns that have been expressed by the head of our [Joint Chiefs of Staff].
“I've read the letter that came over from the president, and certainly there are significant and important points to have been made. As a matter of fact, six months ago those points might have led us to a slightly different place today.
“So, with tremendous reservations and concerns about where this legislation is going to lead us, with tremendous empathy towards the victims that have lived through so much, have seen loved ones gone, that has affected their lives and will affect their lives for the long term, I'm going to support passage of this legislation today, but I do so understanding that there could be in fact unintended consequences that work against our national interest and with a determination should that occur to work with others in this body to try to overcome that.
“With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.”