The House approved a bipartisan so-called voice vote on Friday, two days before the 15th anniversary of the attacks by Al-Qaeda militants.
Leaders of the House called it a “moral imperative” to allow victims’ families to seek justice. But the White House has indicated that it will veto any such bill.
Saudi Arabia has stridently denied that its government officials or intelligence operatives were in any way linked to the Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington
The US Senate passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, unanimously in May. Opponents of the bill said it could strain relations with Saudi Arabia and lead to retaliatory laws targeting US citizens or corporations in other countries.
In April, it was reported that Saudi Arabia had warned the US that it would hit back economically at Washington if the bill proceeded. Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, said his country would be forced to sell up to $750bn in treasury securities and other assets in the US before they could be frozen by American courts.
The vote’s timing was symbolic, passing two days before the 15th anniversary of the hijacked-plane attacks on New York and Washington. Its passage was greeted with cheers and applause in the House chamber, Reuters said.
Yet while the bill may have considerable support, it carries with it huge sensitivity. Saudi Arabia is not just a major supplier of oil to the US, it is also one of its most important regional allies. The US and Saudi are currently involved in efforts against Isis, while the US is supporting Saudi Arabia military operation against rebels in Yemen.
Fifteen of the nineteen men who hijacked four planes and flew them into targets in New York and Washington in 2001 were Saudi citizens, though Riyadh has always denied having any role in the attacks.
The White House on Friday reiterated that President Barack Obama would veto the bill. “This administration strongly continues to oppose this legislation, and, you know, we’ll obviously begin conversations with the House about it,” White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said in May when the Senate passed the bill.
If Mr Obama carries out his veto threat and the required two-thirds of both the Republican-majority House and Senate still support the bill, it would be the first time since his presidency began in 2009 that Congress had overridden a veto.
The House passed the measure by voice, without recorded individual votes, which is not technically considered unanimous. That could make it easier for Mr Obama’s fellow Democrats to uphold his veto later without officially changing their positions.
“This is more important than campaigning,” Terry Strada, who lost her husband in the attacks and is national chair of the victims’ families’ organization bringing a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia.
She told the Washington Post: “You can campaign after, you will never have a chance to pass [the bill] again. This is the priority.
This article originally appeared in The Independent.