Congress Wraps Up One Month's Work In One Day To Keep Government Running

Oct 1, 2016
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After weeks of standstill, the U.S. Congress wrapped up all the work it was supposed to do in September on a single day. On the same day, lawmakers pulled off the first successful veto override of the Obama presidency. They also managed to reach a deal on keeping the government open through December 9. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: It wasn't even close - 97 - 1, 348 - 77. That's how easily the Senate and House beat back President Obama's veto of a bill that allows 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia for the terrorism attacks. After the defeat, Obama told CNN the politics made it almost impossible for his veto to survive.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If you're perceived as voting against 9/11 families right before an election, not surprisingly, that's a hard vote for people to take. But it would've been the right thing to do.

CHANG: But the charge that politics had trumped good sense rubs some lawmakers raw, like Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York, one of the chief sponsors of the bill.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: I look at the families. It's hardly political for me. I've sat and worked with these families for five years. I feel their pain, not close to the amount because I didn't lose a loved one the way they did, but this is about justice.

CHANG: The day after the veto override, Republicans offered this post-mortem on why the White House got walloped so badly. It didn't engage. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the president raised valid arguments against the measure - about how the bill might invite retaliatory lawsuits in foreign courts, about how private litigants shouldn't decide which countries are involved in terrorism. But the president, he said, raised those arguments too late.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: I think it was just a ball dropped. I wish the president - you know, I hate to blame everything on him, and I don't. But it would've been helpful had he - we had a discussion about this much earlier than the last week.

CHANG: McConnell and more than two dozen senators say they're open to modifying the bill when Congress returns after the election. But there isn't much time before Obama leaves office. And Schumer suggests maybe it's better to just move on.

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SCHUMER: In a very partisan time, for any president - and this one in particular - to have only one veto override, that's a darn good record. I'd be proud of it.

CHANG: When lawmakers come back they may have to move on because they'll be facing the mundane but potentially quite contentious task of keeping the government open again. Before break, they managed to pass a two-month spending bill, but that took them weeks. And December promises to be no easier.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.