Pelosi unsure of genocide measure’s fate

Times Staff Writer

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came under increasing pressure from members of her Democratic caucus Wednesday not to bring a resolution officially recognizing the Armenian genocide to a vote.

The San Francisco Democrat, who had promised to bring the long-debated resolution to the floor, sounded uncertain about its fate as support waned in the face of angry denunciations from Turkey and fears that the symbolic resolution could disrupt U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Whether it will come up or not, or what the action will be, remains to be seen,” she said.

The Bush administration and the Turkish government -- aided by high-paid, well-connected lobbyists -- have ratcheted up their campaign against the measure, which calls on the president to “accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide.”

Now top Democrats are leaning on Pelosi. Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, an influential Democrat on military matters, has urged Pelosi not to bring the resolution to the floor. He said party leaders miscalculated support for the measure. If the resolution is brought to a vote now, he said, it would fail, with 55 to 60 Democrats opposing it.


Murtha, a close Pelosi ally who is a leader in efforts to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, said he was worried the resolution would lead Turkey to deny use of its land, ports and airspace to supply American troops.

Separately, a bipartisan group of 49 House members, including such committee chairmen as Reps. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) of the Armed Services Committee and Silverstre Reyes (D-Texas) of the Intelligence Committee, sent Pelosi a letter urging her not to schedule a vote.

The resolution’s supporters weren’t ready to concede defeat.

They want to have a vote when they are confident they will prevail. Pelosi has left it to the sponsors, led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), to gauge support. “We want to win,” Schiff said. “We always knew this was going to be tough.”


Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, said, “At the end of the day, we’re confident that there will be a bipartisan majority” supporting the measure.

At least a dozen lawmakers have withdrawn as cosponsors of the resolution since it was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week, leaving the list of cosponsors short of a majority of the House. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), who pulled his name as a sponsor Wednesday, said, “We need to hold the perpetrators of genocide accountable, but this is not the right time for this resolution.”

Murtha said that a number of lawmakers who signed on as cosponsors “didn’t have a clue what it was all about.”

Bush also renewed his request to Pelosi to not bring the resolution to a vote.

“Congress has more important work to do than antagonizing a democratic ally in the Muslim world, especially one that’s providing vital support for our military every day,” he said.

But the resolution’s supporters took Bush to task for worrying about offending Turkey but being willing to anger China by attending a congressional ceremony for the Dalai Lama on Wednesday.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Reps. George Radanovich (R-Mariposa), Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and Schiff, noted the difference.

“Congress today stood up for what is right and would not be intimidated by threats from another nation,” they said in a statement. “We must similarly be willing to speak out on the Armenian genocide. If we as a nation are to be a moral leader around the world we must have the courage to recognize genocide whenever and wherever it occurs.”


The Turkish government disputes that a genocide took place, contending that during and after World War I, Armenians as well as Turks were casualties of the war, famine and disease. But historical evidence and authoritative research support the use of the term.

The symbolic resolution has been long sought by the Armenian American community.

It has been opposed by the Bush administration, which, like the Clinton administration before it, fears it would lead Turkey to curb its military cooperation with the United States.

Murtha, who chairs the House defense appropriations subcommittee, said that he was recently approached by more than two dozen fellow Democrats, and that “they’re very agitated about this coming to the floor right now.”

“Sometimes, your heart has to give in to your head,” said Rep. Stephen J. Cohen (D-Tenn.), who joined Murtha at a Capitol news conference. Cohen said that when he was in Turkey recently, “this issue was the first thing they talked about.”