The White House reacted harshly to the Senate’s overwhelming vote on Wednesday to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that would enable the family members of 9/11 victims to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in U.S. Courts.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest called it “the single most embarrassing thing the United States Senate has done possibly since 1983.”
As it happens, the White House’s principled opposition to the bill was based on its worry that it would open the door to lawsuits from foreigners accusing the U.S. government of crimes, possibly including the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan, torture, deaths of innocent people with drones, and global mass surveillance.
That makes Earnest’s comment the single most hyperbolic thing he’s said since — well — ever.
For the record, here are just a few of the Senate actions in the aforementioned time period that were truly, profoundly — and therefore way more — embarrassing:
- Greenlighting the Invasion of Iraq: The October 2002 77-23 vote to authorize war powers for Iraq paved the way for a conflict that has consumed hundreds of thousands of lives and an outbreak of instability that still reverberates today. Only six senators even read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq prior to their votes.
- Refusing to Take Up a Bill to Address Global Warming: The House of Representatives passed a cap-and-trade plan to tackle global warming in 2009. The Senate’s leadership decided to never take it up.
- Deciding to Leave a Supreme Court Justice’s Seat Unfilled: Since the passing of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans have decided to simply leave the seat unfilled, refusing to consider Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland for the spot since March.
- Systematically Undermining Marriage Rights for Gay and Lesbian Americans: The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, passed in an overwhelming 85-14 vote, defined marriage as only between a man and a woman in federal law. It also allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The key features of the law were later ruled unconstitutional.
- Making It Much Harder for Poor Americans to Declare Bankruptcy: The Senate voted 74-25 in 2005 to reform bankruptcy laws to make it significantly more difficult for Americans in dire financial straits to discharge their debts.
- Protecting America By Making Illegal Spying Legal: In 2005, the New York Times revealed that the Bush administration had allowed the NSA to illegally spy on Americans’ transnational communications without a warrant. The Bush administration claimed that it had inherent wartime authority to do that, but nonetheless urged Congress to give the president “additional authority.” Congress robustly responded to the scandal in 2007 by passing the “Protect America Act,” which effectively made what Bush did legal. In 2008, Congress passed another law that further expanded the President’s surveillance powers, while granting retroactive immunity to telecom companies that assisted in the original surveillance program.
- Filibustering Aid for 9/11 Responders: In 2010, Senate Republicans successfully blocked a bill that would provide health care for 9/11 first responders. After Jon Stewart shamed them for their filibuster on The Daily Show, the bill finally passed less than two weeks later. Stewart had to return to his show five years later to pressure Congress into passing an extension.
You can add other embarrassing votes in the comments.
Top photo: Earnest briefing reporters in June 2016.