• 9/11

9/11 (Photo : Getty Images)

Both houses of the United States Congress overwhelmingly rejected President Barack Obama's veto of what's called the "9/11 bill" allowing relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks in the U.S. to sue Saudi Arabia, making this the first exception to the principle of sovereign immunity.

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The veto override was also the first for Obama's presidency and will be the last since Obama has only four months left in office and Congress is now in recess.

The override means the "Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act" or JASTA will become law. The bill grants families of 9/11 victims the right to sue Saudi Arabia, a major U.S. ally, for any role the monarchy might have played in the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. that killed 2,996 Americans in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon.

The rejection of Obama's veto was a rare bipartisan piece of legislation in a Congress divided along party lines. Congress is widely reviled by Americans as a "do nothing Congress" because of the gridlock caused by its intense political polarization.

The Senate rejected Obama's veto 97-1 with the House of Representatives voting 348-77 against the veto later. Only Democratic Senator Harry Reid voted against the override in the Senate.

Political analysts said the override was a blow to Obama and Saudi Arabia, long the linchpin of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. They also said members of Congress from both parties were protecting their backs by distancing themselves from Obama ahead of the Nov. 8 national elections.

"Overriding a presidential veto is something we don't take lightly, but it was important in this case that the families of the victims of 9/11 be allowed to pursue justice, even if that pursuit causes some diplomatic discomforts," said Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate.

The last president to have only one veto overridden was President George H.W. Bush, who served one term. Bill Clinton's vetoes were overridden twice and while Congress rejected George W. Bush's vetoes four times.

Saudi Arabia has always denied allegations it was behind the 9/11 attacks. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

Obama contends the law might expose U.S. companies, troops and officials to lawsuits, and alienate important allies.