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On Washington

By CARL HULSE

WASHINGTON — It has taken nearly eight years, but it appears President Obama is about to finally suffer the stinging indignity of a veto override.

The House and Senate are busily preparing to reverse Mr. Obama’s anticipated veto of a bill that would allow families of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks to sue the government of Saudi Arabia to recover damages for complicity in the act carried out mainly by Saudi citizens.

With the election just weeks away, lawmakers are essentially in the position of taking either the side of the Saudi government — not a particularly sympathetic party — or those still grieving and aggrieved family members.

What is more, the vote is expected to come just days after new terrorism incidents in New York and New Jersey and the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, making the memories of that horrific event all the fresher.

“I would be surprised if it didn’t get a lot of votes,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, who knows a daunting vote count when he sees one.

A veto override has a special bite to it since it means that a substantial number of the president’s own party members have abandoned him, joining the opposition in determining his judgment to be flawed and misguided enough for Congress to overrule it. A successful override takes a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate — 290 and 67 votes, respectively, a number almost unthinkable on most other matters, given the polarization in Washington.

It is no surprise the showdown comes late in Mr. Obama’s tenure. At the end of a president’s service, even members of a president’s own party have a tendency to become more concerned about their own political standing than the image of a White House occupant on the way out.

George W. Bush, who for most of his presidency held the nearly unquestioned allegiance of congressional Republicans, was overridden four times — all in his last two years in office as his popularity and influence waned.

Weakened by the Iran-contra scandal in 1987, Ronald Reagan faced an uprising when he vetoed a popular highway bill. He went to the Capitol to make an extraordinary plea to Republican senators not to desert him. He lost and was narrowly overridden, though his supporters interpreted the moment as a sign that the embattled president still had some fight in him.

“Obviously you are dismayed, but you are also energized because you are pulling out all the stops to get bad legislation stopped,” said Kenneth M. Duberstein, who was Mr. Reagan’s deputy chief of staff at the time.

The more surprising element of this current dispute may be that this is the first time the threat of an override of Mr. Obama’s veto is real.

When Republicans gained control of the Senate in 2015, joining the large House Republican majority, it was assumed that the president would face an onslaught of legislation he would be forced to reject, setting up tough veto fights. But Democrats in the Senate protected him by using their numbers and procedural tactics to bottle up bills considered veto bait.

“For a president to serve eight years in a partisan time and only have one override, not a bad record,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Senate Democrat and a chief author of the legislation in question.

Democrats are not enthusiastic about breaking so publicly with the president. And Mr. Obama’s poll numbers are relatively strong, with an approval rating above 50 percent, so this is not a case of Congress beating a president when he is down, as it has been in the past.

Many Democrats say they understand the president’s need to think diplomatically and geopolitically about the nation’s position when it comes to legislation opening up foreign nations to such lawsuits. But they say the desire to allow the families to pursue their claims outweighs such considerations.

“Breaking with him is something I feel is absolutely necessary to give these families their day in court,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut. “There are disagreements even in the closest of families. I realize this is a difficult vote for some of my colleagues, but this isn’t personal, it’s the principle.”

The White House has pushed back, arguing that the United States could face a foreign backlash if the legislation becomes law. Some Democrats remain torn and undecided. Others intend to back the White House.

“I’m sticking with Obama,” said Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, who added that in matters with serious foreign policy implications he was willing to give the administration a wider berth.

Even some Republicans are queasy about the implications of the bill, but intend to side against the White House anyway.

“I will vote to override the veto, but I’m trying to find a way to make the statute a little bit better in the eyes of the Saudis without destroying the goal,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

The White House seems braced for the result and does not interpret the likely outcome as a repudiation of the president or a blot on his legacy. Administration officials see it more as a difference in viewpoint and Mr. Obama performing his presidential role in protecting the nation’s interests overseas.

Still, it looks as though the time has arrived for Mr. Obama to join the ranks of his many predecessors who found themselves on the losing end of an override vote.

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