The Dalai Lama and the president will not meet until after Obama visits Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing in November.
China reviles the Dalai Lama as a separatist and pressures foreign governments not to meet with him. The administration, which needs Chinese support for crucial foreign policy, economic and environmental goals, wants to establish friendly ties between Hu and Obama.
As the Obama administration was accused of "kowtowing" to Beijing, supporters of the Dalai Lama gathered at the Capitol as he received an award in memory of the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), a Holocaust survivor and longtime champion of human rights.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said at the ceremony that "unless we speak out for human rights in China and in Tibet, we lose all moral authority to talk about human rights anywhere in the world."
Many urged Obama to meet with the Dalai Lama now.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) said in a speech in Congress that not inviting the Nobel Peace Prize laureate to the White House this week could lead other foreign leaders who are worried about angering China to brush off similar chances to meet with him.
"I call on the president to stand side by side with His Holiness, a man of peace, and align America once again with the oppressed, not the oppressors," Wolf said.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that a strong relationship between the United States and China benefits Tibet because it allows the U.S. to talk to China about the concerns of the Tibetan people.
The Dalai Lama's envoy, Lodi Gyari, played down the situation, saying that there "has been no question of President Obama not, at the appropriate time, meeting His Holiness."
He said in a statement that the Dalai Lama, "taking a broader and long-term perspective," agreed to delay the meeting in the hope that a cooperative U.S.-China relationship will help resolve Tibetans' grievances.