WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, as the 115th Congress convened, Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) Board Member Annie Totah, along with Executive Director Bryan Ardouny, were on the Hill meeting with legislators in both the House and Senate.
Ardouny congratulated Armenian Caucus Leaders on their re-election, including Caucus Co-Chair Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Vice Co-Chair Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL). During the meeting with Rep. Bilirakis, they discussed several key issues as well as the Congressman’s new role as Vice Chair.
Since its inception, the Armenian Caucus has played a critical leadership role in the House of Representatives on a wide range of issues, including assistance programs for Armenia, humanitarian aid to Artsakh, trade initiatives, addressing the ongoing Azerbaijani and Turkish blockades against Armenia, the Nagorno Karabakh peace process, and U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide. Since independence, Armenia has not wavered from its commitment to the most important values shared with the United States: a commitment to democracy and a free market economy.
Long-time Assembly Board Member Totah extended her warm greetings to newly-elected Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), a long-time supporter of Armenian issues who defeated Turkish Caucus Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) in the Maryland primary. Totah and Ardouny also met with freshman Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD) who succeeds Rep. Edwards in the 4th Congressional District.
“As the 115th Congress gets started, it is reassuring to know that we have friends on both sides of the aisle who understand our issues and the importance of U.S.-Armenia and U.S.-Artsakh relationships. And now more than ever before, with a renewed sense of energy, we should dedicate ourselves diligently to address the issues and bring them to a satisfactory resolution,” stated Totah.
In addition to seeing House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Armenian-American Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Ardouny met with House Republican Policy Chair Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), as well as with various congressional staff.
“We have an ambitious agenda for 2017 and we look forward to working with the new Congress and Administration to ensure that our key priorities are heard and acted upon,” Ardouny said.
HOUSE: The House will return on Tuesday, June 17 and has a busy schedule the next two weeks. In addition to Thursday’s House GOP leadership election to replace primary-defeated Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and possibly Majority Whip (more on this below), the summer of appropriations hearings is about to begin.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) has scheduled the bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, which covers U.S. economic, humanitarian and military assistance to Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh, and Azerbaijan, for a markup on Tuesday, June 17 at 6PM. As we reported in the last Assembly Agenda, it is most unlikely that the House will pass all 12 appropriations bills separately, as both time and history would predict. Add to that the fact that it is an election year, Congress will probably end up passing the SFOPS bill as part of a mini-bus or omni-bus spending package before the fiscal year ends on September 30th. In early April of this year the Assembly submitted testimony to the House Appropriations Committee outlining nine key policy priorities for U.S. assistance to Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh and Kessab Armenians. The full testimony is available here.
– POSTPONED: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), has postponed the hearing and vote on H.R. 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act, for a later date. The hearing and vote was announced last week and was set to take place on Wednesday, June 18 at 10AM.
SENATE: The Senate returns today and, like the House, will have a full plate before the 4th of July recess. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee is also scheduled to markup the SFOPS bill for FY2015 on Tuesday, June 17 at 4PM.
With both House and Senate FY2015 bills being marked up in subcommittee this week, the full committee vote could come as early as next week. As such, the Armenian Assembly will continue to work with House and Senate appropriators at every stage of the process to ensure the best possible outcome for Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh, and Armenians and other Christian minorities affected by the civil war in Syria.
WHITE HOUSE: #ReleaseTheRug Update: As previously reported, President Obama recently announced that he will release the Armenian Orphan Rug for public display sometime later this year. However, such a commitment has not been put in writing and no details of the event, such as time, date, or location, have been revealed. The Assembly welcomes this announcement and expects the President to honor his commitment and to release the rug for public display this year.
– WHO IS THE NEXT US AMBASSADOR? The Assembly is also monitoring upcoming ambassadorial nomination announcements from the White House for posts in Ankara and Yerevan. Both US Ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, and US Ambassador to Armenia, John Heffern, will finish their 3-year tours at the end of this summer. There is no word yet on Heffern’s successor, while John Bass, a former US Ambassador to Georgia, is rumored to be Obama’s next man in Turkey, according to Turkish sources.
THINK-TANKED: Today, two major conferences on Armenia related issues were held in Washington, DC. The Middle East Institute held their 5th annual conference on Turkey at the National Press Club (http://bit.ly/1iBixtv). This year’s special guest speaker was Efkan Ala, Interior Minister of the Republic of Turkey. This all day conference comprised of three panels featuring Turkish government officials, current and former US State Department officials, policy experts and members of the Turkish and international press. Also, the pro-Turkey/pro-Azerbaijani Jamestown Foundation held a conference on the Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Repercussions for Moldova and the South Caucasus at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (http://bit.ly/1lIh6y5). This two panel event featured Eurasian and Russian policy experts, former US diplomats, and foreign government officials. Noticeably absent is a representative from Armenia, which calls into question the legitimacy of such an event, despite the prestigious venue.
– MORE ON AZERBAIJAN: The Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe-US Helsinki Commission held a hearing last week on the “Security, Economics and Human Rights Dimensions of US-Azerbaijan Relations.” While the hearing largely sidestepped the Nagorno Karabakh conflict negotiations, Azerbaijan government’s bellicose rhetoric, and the escalation of violence along the Karabakh and Armenian border, in its written testimony, Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny highlighted Azerbaijan’s intransigence regarding the Nagorno Karabakh peace process as evidenced by its continued cease-fire violations and ongoing rhetoric against Armenia and Karabakh, and specifically voiced the Assembly’s “support [for] the inclusion of Nagorno Karabakh in the direct talks.”
As we reported in the last Assembly Agenda, Azerbaijan recently hired former Massachusetts Congressman Bill Delahunt to lobby on behalf of the authoritarian regime. Last year alone Azerbaijan spent $2.3 million to influence Washington, rounding out the list of top 10 foreign spenders on lobbying in Washington, DC, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
ELECTION WATCH: Last week, the political world was shocked when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost the Republican primary to an unknown challenger, college economics professor David Brat. Cantor’s loss is the first time in US history that a House Majority Leader lost his seat in a primary election. Cantor is the highest ranking supporter of US reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide in the House. He is also the highest ranking Jewish American politician.
– WHAT CANTOR LOSS MEANS FOR ARMENIAN AMERICANS: With Cantor out, Armenian Americans have lost a crucial supporter of US reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide. While the position of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on the Armenian Genocide bill is well known, that of potential successors is known much less. In an article about the upcoming midterm elections, I wrote back in 2013 that “History suggests that only a strong, well-respected and powerful Speaker would be able to bring an Armenian Genocide resolution to the floor of the House for a vote before 2015. One possible scenario would be that a Speaker Ryan or a Speaker Cantor could very well play that role.” Should an Armenian Genocide resolution gain momentum in Congress in the next 10 months, and should the Republican Party keep its majority this November, a Speaker Ryan in the 114th Congress would be the best case scenario for Armenian Americans who would like to see the US reaffirm its position on the Armenian Genocide before the centennial.
– WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: Many had expected Cantor to succeed Boehner as Speaker of the House next year, again, should Republicans retain their majority. However, his stunning loss has created a scramble to replace him in leadership. Days after his primary defeat, Cantor announced that he would step down as Majority Leader effective July 31. House GOP leaders have scheduled a vote to elect the next Majority Leader for Thursday, June 19th. Current House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who is widely expected to succeed Cantor as Majority Leader, will face off against Tea Party-backed Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID). McCarthy has been endorsed by Cantor and Paul Ryan. Should McCarthy win, a race for Majority Whip opens up. Current House Majority Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-IL), who has a record in support of Armenian American issues, is one of three top contenders for Whip. Republican Study Committee chairman Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) is mounting an aggressive campaign to succeed McCarthy, as is Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN). Should Roskam win, a race for Majority Deputy Whip opens up. Clearly, this shake up has had a ripple effect on House GOP leadership and it could have more. If you are interested, POLITICO has a good column on the race for Whip, while Roll Call has a nice wrap-up of future GOP leaders.
– NEXT PRIMARY ELECTION: Voters in Colorado, Maryland, New York and Oklahoma will head to the polls on Tuesday, June 24 to elect their respective party nominees for November.
DAYS UNTIL ELECTION: 141
ARMENIAN CONGRESSIONAL TRIVIA: Since nobody got it right last time, we’ll ask it again: name the Senator who is retiring at the end of this year that previously introduced the Armenian Genocide resolution in Senate? The first person to correctly respond will get a shout out in the next edition of Assembly Agenda.
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