Dec 5, 2019

Scoop: Sen. Cramer blocks Armenian genocide bill at request of White House

Sen. Cramer at a rally with Trump. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The White House directed Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) to block an effort by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Thursday to pass a resolution via unanimous consent formally recognizing Turkey's genocide of the Armenian people, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: This is the third time that the White House has directed a Republican senator to block the resolution, a symbolic measure already passed by the House that would infuriate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

  • Cramer said on the Senate floor that he doesn't think this is "the right time" to pass the resolution, noting that President Trump has just returned from meeting with Erdoğan at the NATO summit in London, and that the resolution could undermine the administration's diplomatic efforts.

Cramer's objection is especially noteworthy given that he was a co-sponsor of a similar resolution during the last Congress.

  • Cramer tweeted a picture in September 2017 thanking actor Dean Cain for visiting Capitol Hill to "raise awareness on the Armenian genocide."
  • He stated on the Senate floor Thursday that he does not intend to continue objecting to the resolution.

The backdrop: As Axios has previously reported, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was asked to block the resolution on Nov. 13 after meeting with Erdoğan at the White House.

  • Graham told Axios at the time that he was trying to "salvage the relationship" between the U.S. and Turkey, which has been under considerable strain in the wake of Turkey's military invasion of northern Syria.
  • He added: "I'm not going to object next time."

The following week, the White House asked Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) to block the resolution.

  • A Perdue spokesperson told Axios: "Senator Perdue objected due to concerns that passage of the resolution would jeopardize the sensitive negotiations going on in the region with Turkey and other allies."

The big picture: Trump clashed with France's Emmanuel Macron at a NATO summit in London this week over Turkey's role in the military alliance. Macron criticized Turkey for its assault on U.S.- and French-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria, as well as its purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system over the objections of its NATO allies.

  • Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) both called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to sanction Turkey over the S-400 purchase.
  • Trump said at the NATO summit that he has a “very good relationship” with Erdoğan, dodging a question over whether he’d approve the sanctions.

Sen. Cramer's office and the White House did not provide a comment.

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Scoop: White House directed block of Armenian genocide resolution

Erdoğan listens to translators as he meets with Trump and senators in the Oval Office, Nov. 13. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Many were perplexed and outraged when, right after clashing with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a heated Oval Office meeting on Nov. 13, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham hurried back to the Senate floor and did something that likely delighted Erdoğan. Graham blocked a resolution that would have formally recognized Turkey's genocide of the Armenian people.

Behind the scenes: Graham had just scolded Erdoğan over his invasion of Syria and attacks on the Kurds, according to sources in the room.

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Senate passes Armenian genocide bill in move likely to infuriate Turkey

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The Senate passed a resolution via unanimous consent Thursday formally recognizing Turkey's genocide of the Armenian people.

Why it matters: The previous three attempts by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to pass the resolution were blocked by Republican senators at the request of the White House, which feared that its passage would infuriate the Turkish government during a tense period of U.S.-Turkey relations.

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Why it matters: The senators sent the letter a day before NATO leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, convene for a summit in London on a myriad of pressing topics, including the risk posed by Turkey testing Russian missile systems.

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