By Julian Hattem - 04-19-16 13:34 PM EDT
Sen. Lindsey Graham has placed a hold on legislation that would open the door for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.
Graham (R-S.C.), who is a co-sponsor of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, put the hold on his own bill over concerns that new changes could expose the U.S. to legal attacks.
Edits made last week by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) might expand the scope, Graham told reporters on Tuesday, potentially putting the U.S. at risk of legal retaliation because of actions by individuals or unsavory allies.
"I want to make sure that anything we do doesn't come to bite us," Graham told reporters in the basement of the Senate.
"Anything we do in this bill can be used against us later. So let's say there's a situation where you've got an American in a consulate or an embassy that's got their own grudge against a government," he said. "We want to make sure that we're not liable for that."
Sessions, for his part, suggested that he shared Graham's underlying concerns about the potential for the bill to expose the U.S. to legal attacks. Ultimate responsibility for settling the issue, he said, ought to belong with the Obama administration.
"Generally you get leadership from the State Department," Sessions said on Tuesday. "But when the chips were down, they never produced any real assistance."
"Somewhere along the line the president is going to need to review it, get his best team on it and if it's not good for America, he should veto it or try to provide leadership."
The lingering unease about the bill's ramifications hints at the legal minefield that lawmakers need to navigate; the measure has gained new prominence amid President Obama's travel to Saudi Arabia this week.
Saudi officials have strongly opposed the bill and threatened to sell off $750 billion of U.S. assets should it be enacted.
The White House has come out against the legislation, because of what it claims would be dangerous precedent that could erode the legal system of sovereign immunity.
"If we open up the possibility that individuals and the United States can routinely start suing other governments, then we are also opening up the United States to being continually sued by individuals in other countries," Obama said in an interview with CBS broadcast early Tuesday.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) expressed skepticism on Tuesday of the legislation, which is backed by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), who are both leaders in their Senate caucuses.
"I think we need to look at it," Ryan told reporters at a news conference. "I think we need to review it to make sure we are not making mistakes with our allies and that we're not catching people in this that shouldn't be caught up in this."
Graham also raised the case of the People's Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian Kurdish forces that the U.S. has relied upon in the growing chaos of the Syrian civil war.
Despite being a critical tool of the U.S. in Syria, the YPG are allied with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish nationalist group in Turkey considered terrorists by both Washington and Ankara.
"If they go out and commit a terrorist act somewhere else against Turkey, I don't want to be held liable because that's not what we were sponsoring," Graham said.
"Some of our allies are a bit dubious. I want to make sure that because we find common ground in one area, we don't own these people forever because of whatever they do."
The changes from Sessions have yet to be made public. An official with the Alabama Republican's office did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the edits.
"The change that was made by Sen. Sessions may be a good change. It may limit the application of the bill in a way that protects us down the road," Graham told reporters. "I really think I know what he's trying to do.
"But I've had a couple of questions that I hadn't gotten an answer to yet, and so we're working on it."