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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.

  • As we reported at the time, Erdogan pulled out his iPad and showed the Oval Office group a propaganda video depicting the leader of the primarily Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces as a terrorist.
  • The South Carolina Republican then chided him over the clip. "Well, do you want me to go get the Kurds to make one about what you've done?" he said.

What happened next, which has not been previously reported: As Graham was leaving the Oval Office, senior White House staff asked him to return to the Senate and block the Armenian genocide resolution — a measure that would have infuriated Erdoğan.

  • Graham confirmed this in a phone interview on Saturday.
  • "After the meeting, we kind of huddled up and talked about what happened," he said. A White House legislative affairs official told Graham that Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was going to bring up his Armenian genocide resolution and asked if Graham could "please object."
  • "I said sure," Graham said. "The only reason I did it is because he [Erdoğan] was still in town. ... That would've been poor timing. I'm trying to salvage the relationship if possible."

Asked whether he felt uncomfortable blocking the Armenian genocide resolution, Graham replied: "Yeah. Because I like Bob [Menendez]. He's been working on this for years, but I did think with the president of Turkey in town that was probably more than the market would bear."

  • "I'm not going to object next time," Graham added.

The "next time" happened last week. Menendez and his Republican Senate colleague Ted Cruz introduced the Armenian genocide resolution again. This time, the White House asked another Republican Senate ally, David Perdue, to block it.

  • "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," said a Perdue spokesperson.

The big picture: The Trump administration is pushing Turkey to give up its Russian-made S-400 air defense system. While they're negotiating, they're trying to block Congress from calling out Turkey’s human rights atrocities.

  • Trump has also been reluctant to sign legislation — which Congress passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities — to punish China for its repression of Hong Kong. Trump tells aides he wants to get a trade deal first.
  • But Trump will probably have no choice but to sign the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. As Sen. Cruz said, Congress has enough votes to override a presidential veto.

Go deeper

Updated 34 mins ago - World

Netanyahu is out as new Israeli government survives confidence vote

Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

Israel has a new prime minister for the first time since 2009 after a power-sharing government led by Naftali Bennett survived a confidence vote on Sunday. Bennett was sworn in as prime minister.

Why it matters: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister and the man around whom Israeli politics have revolved for a decade, will now become opposition leader. Bennett, a right-wing former Netanyahu protege, will lead the most ideologically diverse government in Israeli history.

Updated 53 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Afghanistan, cyber defense on the agenda for Biden in Brussels

Joe Biden arrives at Melsbroek Military Airport in Brussels on June 13. Photo: Yves Herman/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden touched down in Brussels on Sunday evening ahead of two days of talks with NATO and European Union leaders as part of his first foreign trip as president.

Driving the news: Biden was greeted on the tarmac by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and a slate of other officials, including Douglas Jones and Mark Libby, the U.S. Permanent Representatives to NATO and the EU respectively.

Maersk CEO: Global businesses should be wary of politics

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

The CEO of the world's largest container-shipping company cautions that international firms have to be careful of taking political stances.

  • What they're saying: "We cannot run a global business if we start to have views on politics in every single country that we are in," Maersk CEO Søren Skou tells "Axios on HBO."