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House passes Sept. 11 legislation as Obama veto threat looms

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Members of Congress bowed their heads during a 9/11 Remembrance on the East Steps of the US Capitol in Washington, DC.
Members of Congress bowed their heads during a 9/11 Remembrance on the East Steps of the US Capitol in Washington, DC.MANDEL NGAN

WASHINGTON — Congress sent President Obama a bipartisan bill that would allow families of Sept. 11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia, putting lawmakers on a collision course with the White House on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the attacks.

The House passed the legislation Friday by voice vote, about four months after the measure cleared the Senate despite objections from Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

The legislation gives victims' families the right to sue in US court for any role that elements of the Saudi government may have played in the 2001 attacks that killed thousands in New York, the Washington, D.C., area and Pennsylvania.

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The White House has signaled Obama would veto the legislation over the potential for it to backfire and apprehension about undermining a longstanding yet strained relationship with a critical US ally in the Middle East. The Obama administration has warned that if US citizens can take the Saudis to court, then a foreign country could in turn sue the United States. Votes from two-thirds of the members in the House and Senate would be needed to override a veto.