The Assembly Agenda: This week in Washington, D.C. – December 2, 2014

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By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)

AAANews Blog

December 2, 2014

HOUSE: The House returned to Washington on Monday to kick off the last ten legislative days left on the calendar. This gives legislators little time to approve “must-pass” legislation, such as passing a Continuing Resolution, or CR, to avoid a government shutdown before funding is set to expire on Friday, December 12. The CR for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 would fund the government at FY 2013 levels, given the fact that during FY2014 Congress was operating on a CR passed the previous year. President Obama’s Executive Order on immigration has thrown a wrench in the deal Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) brokered with his caucus and House Republicans, forcing the latter to come up with alternative ways to keep the government open while taking action against the President’s immigration order, which operates on generated fees rather than Congressional funding. The back-and-forth between both chambers is not unlikely to cease in the coming days as legislators decide how best to move forward for their caucus and the country as a new Republican congressional majority takes over next year.

– WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR U.S. ASSISTANCE TO ARMENIA & NAGORNO KARABAKH? The bottom line is that given Congress’ inability to pass a budget, Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh benefit by avoiding further cuts to assistance programs. Although the U.S. budget still functions under the mandate of sequestration, gridlock in Congress has delayed more serious cuts to U.S. assistance to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

– WHAT ABOUT PRO-ARMENIAN LEGISLATION? In the 113th Congress, two pro-Armenian measures were introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives: H.R. 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act, and H. Res. 227, the Armenian Genocide Truth & Justice Resolution.

Under Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), H.R. 4347 passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) on June 26, 2014 http://bit.ly/UNolL9. It is now up to Speaker Boehner to schedule the bill for a vote. In fact, the bill has gained momentum with recent cosponsors such as Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Congressman Brian Higgins (D-NY), a member of HFAC, bringing the total number of cosponsors to 32. At this time, it remains to be seen if the Speaker will bring this important, international religious freedom legislation to the House floor before Congress adjourns for the year. However, there is still the possibility that H.R. 4347 receives full consideration next week. Recall that in 2011, the House passed H. Res. 306, which similarly calls on Turkey to return confiscated Christian property – albeit on less stringent terms – during the lame duck of the 112th Congress http://bit.ly/1waTANm. The Armenian Assembly of America continues to advocate for full passage of H. R. 4347, the Turkish Christian Churches Accountability Act of 2014.

The Armenian Genocide Truth & Justice Resolution, H. Res. 227, currently has 52 cosponsors and is still pending in the HFAC. This resolution differs greatly from previous Armenian Genocide resolutions that gathered close to 200 cosponsors and which passed said committee in 2000, 2005, 2007 and 2010. These resolutions were mirrored off the Assembly-backed S.J. Res. 212, a Senate resolution commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and reaffirming the U.S. record, back in 1990.

SENATE: Like the House, the Senate returned from recess yesterday. Also like the House, the Senate is hoping to conclude the work of the 113th Congress by December 12. However, House Republicans and Senate Democrats, along with the White House, are currently posturing to achieve maximum concessions from the other party, forcing outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to threaten holding Senators in session through Christmas should there be delays in finalizing must-pass legislation. “We have a lot to do, and there isn’t much time to accomplish it. So, I encourage all senators to work hard to complete our work in a timely and efficient fashion. We may have to be here the week before Christmas, and hopefully … not into the Christmas holiday,” Reid said. With the clock ticking, the Senate is waiting to see what the House does first. Also on the Senate’s agenda is confirming several pending ambassadorial nominations.

– AMBASSADOR WATCH: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), under Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), will vote to confirm President Obama’s nominees to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia and Azerbaijan, Richard M. Mills, Jr. and Robert F. Cekuta, respectively, on Thursday, December 4th at 10:00 AM. It is anticipated that the SFRC will confirm the nominees. No holds have been placed on their nomination at the time of this publication. For more on Mills see here http://bit.ly/1r3hHxZ and for more on Cekuta see here http://bit.ly/1omXhcT. Once approved by the SFRC, the nominations are expected to head to the Senate floor for a full vote next week before Congress (hopefully) adjourns, according to sources familiar with the process.

PENDING LEGISLATION: On April 10th, the SFRC passed S. Res. 410, the Armenian Genocide resolution http://bit.ly/1gQP8cR. Introduced by Chairman Menendez, it currently has 12 cosponsors and awaits a vote on the Senate floor. Majority Leader Harry Reid, a long time advocate of Armenian American issues and a cosponsor of S. Res. 410, has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill. The Senate operates under different rules than the House wherein a single Senator can place a hold on the measure, effectively blocking its passage.

BASS ARRIVES IN TURKEY: U.S. Ambassador John Bass arrived in Ankara in October and gave a now-customary interview on US-Turkey relations to Hurriyet Daily News http://bit.ly/1tGgubV.

2014 ELECTIONS & THE NEXT CONGRESS: Last month, the incoming House and Senate majority leaders released the congressional calendar for the 114th Congress http://bit.ly/1rOvPHO. The House’s schedule is similar to this year’s, while the Senate schedule is longer, a result of the off-election year.

ARMENIAN CAUCUS RESULTS: As previously reported, 100% of Armenian Caucus members who sought reelection to their House seat were victorious on Election Day http://bit.ly/1yCs9fV. However, Armenian Americans will lose 20 Members of Congress due to retirement, resignation, primary defeat, or because they sought other office. Thus, at the beginning of the next Congress, the Armenian Caucus will start with 93 Members of Congress. For a full accounting, please see the Assembly’s 113th Congress Armenian Caucus Casualty List here http://bit.ly/1s6Iapv.

– Days until the Louisiana runoff: 4; Days until the Iowa caucuses: 412; Days until the 2016 election: 707

UPCOMING EVENTS IN WASHINGTON:

Tuesday, December 2: The Office of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic in the U.S., the Embassy of Armenia, the Armenian Assembly of America, and ANCA, in cooperation with the Congressional Caucus on Armenian issues, will host the Annual Capitol Hill Celebration of Artsakh’s Independence featuring Nagorno Karabakh Speaker Ashot Ghulian in Washington, DC. http://bit.ly/1txJuUa

Wednesday, December 3: The Institute of World Politics will host a discussion on “Turkey’s Foreign Policy Dilemmas in 2015.” http://bit.ly/1r0UJ6s  

UPCOMING ARMENIAN ASSEMBLY EVENTS: 2 Events in Boston this week. Also, if you’re in South Florida, save the date of January 3, 2015 for our kick off event in Boca Raton, and if you’re in Southern California, save the date of January 17, 2015, for our annual new year gathering in Los Angeles.

Thursday, December 4: Annual Assembly Holiday Reception featuring Dr. Rouben Adalian, Director of the Armenian National Institute, will present a digital exhibit on “The Armenian Church, Etchmiadzin, & the Armenian Genocide” at the Armenian Cultural Foundation in Arlington, MA http://bit.ly/1yHZA2S.

Friday, December 5: The Armenian Assembly Intern Alumni & YP Happy Hour will be held at Back Bay Social Club on Boylston Street in Boston, MA http://bit.ly/12mNa4R.

ARMENIAN CONGRESSIONAL TRIVIA: Nobody guessed correctly that Steven Derounian was the first Armenian American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. First elected in 1952, Derounian represented New York’s 2 District as a Republican, and for a brief time, the 3rd District after the 1960 redistricting process. He would go on to serve 5 terms in Congress before losing his seat to Democrat Lester Wolff in the LBJ landslide of 1964. For more about Steven Derounian, including his brother’s career as a spy journalist, check out his Wikipedia entry here http://bit.ly/1zeyJtF.

Today’s question comes from yours truly. Derounian settled in Austin, Texas and taught at the University of Texas. Name another prominent Armenian American at a university in Texas. Bonus points if you can name the university. Hint: he is a former U.S. Ambassador to Syria and Israel.

Send tips, suggestions, comments, complaints and corrections to taniel@aaainc.org. If you don’t already, please follow me on Twitter @Taniel_Shant and follow the Armenian Assembly of America @ARAMAC_DC and @ARAMAC_CA.

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The Assembly Agenda: This week in Washington, D.C. – September 4, 2014

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By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)

AAANews Blog

September 4, 2014

HOUSE: The House is in the last week of the summer recess and will return next Monday, September 8th. Although Congress will only be in session for two weeks before the midterm election, there are many legislative issues left to address, most importantly: funding the government. Although both chambers have adopted fiscal year (FY) 2015 appropriations bills that cover funding for Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh http://bit.ly/1lNC7r3, Congress has been unable to wrap up the annual appropriations process. The House has passed seven out of twelve appropriations bills, while the Senate has passed zero. As FY 2014 is set to end on September 30th, Congress is expected to pass a stop-gap spending package at current levels that, according to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), will fund the government until sometime in early December.

In addition to appropriations, some sort of immigration reform/child migrant crisis resolution, reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank, and dealing with the growing threat of the Islamic State are all big ticket issues on the agenda.

– WHAT ABOUT PRO-ARMENIAN LEGISLATION?: In the 113th Congress, two pro-Armenian measures were introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives: H.R. 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act, and H. Res. 227, the Armenian Genocide Truth & Justice Resolution. Under Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), H.R. 4347 passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 26, 2014 http://bit.ly/UNolL9. It is now up to Speaker Boehner to schedule the bill for a vote. At this time, it remains to be seen if the Speaker will bring this important, international religious freedom legislation to the House floor before Congress adjourns for the midterm election. However, there is still the possibility that H.R. 4347 receives full consideration after the election. Congress is scheduled to return on November 12th for a lame-duck session to conclude the 113th Congress. Recall that in 2011, the House passed H. Res. 306, which similarly calls on Turkey to return confiscated Christian property – albeit on less stringent terms – during the lame duck of the 112th Congress. http://bit.ly/1waTANm The Armenian Assembly of America continues to advocate for full passage of H. R. 4347, the Turkish Christian Churches Accountability Act of 2014.

The Armenian Genocide Truth & Justice Resolution, H. Res. 227, currently has 52 cosponsors and is still pending in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This resolution differs greatly from previous Armenian Genocide resolutions that gathered close to 200 cosponsors and that which passed said committee in 2010, 2007, 2005 and 2000. These more recent resolutions were mirrored off the Assembly-backed S.J. Res. 212, a Senate resolution commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and reaffirming the U.S. record, back in 1990.

SENATE: Like the House, the Senate will return from recess next Monday. In addition to resolving the major issues mentioned above, the Senate will look to confirm a slew of ambassadorial nominations, including posts in Yerevan, Baku, and Ankara.

– FORMER SENATOR JIM JEFFORDS PASSES AT 80: On August 18th, the political world was saddened by the death of former U.S. Senator James Jeffords of Vermont. His death was widely noted as he represented a principled voice in United States national politics for over 30 years before retiring in 2007 because of health problems. For Americans of Armenian descent, however, Jeffords was also a part of a different political history. In the 101st Congress, Senator Jeffords was an original cosponsor of S.J.Res. 212, a bill marking the 75th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and reaffirming the U.S. record http://bit.ly/1lG61Aj.

– AMBASSADOR WATCH: Despite what some Armenian organizations would have you believe, the Senate adjourned for the month-long August recess without confirming John R. Bass as the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey, not because Senators believe he warranted additional scrutiny, but simply because they ran out of time. With over 50 posts vacant around the world, the Senate was only able to confirm one top-priority nominee prior to the recess, the U.S. ambassador to Russia. Some Armenian media outlets mistakenly reported that Bass denied the Armenian Genocide during his confirmation hearing, even though he faced no questions on the Armenian Genocide at that hearing. Bass’ nomination is likely to be confirmed in the coming weeks, according to sources familiar with his nomination. For more on Bass see here: http://bit.ly/1omXhcT. You can also watch Senator John McCain (R-AZ) grill Bass (no pun intended) on Erdogan’s drift toward authoritarianism here: http://bit.ly/1xggpUa.

In addition, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), under Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), has yet to hold confirmation hearings on President Obama’s nominees for ambassador to Armenia and Azerbaijan, Richard M. Mills, Jr. and Robert F. Cekuta, respectively. The SFRC is expected to schedule their confirmation hearings in the next two weeks. For more on Mills see here http://bit.ly/1r3hHxZ and for more on Cekuta see here http://bit.ly/1omXhcT.

PENDING LEGISLATION: On April 10th, the SFRC passed S. Res. 410, the Armenian Genocide resolution http://bit.ly/1gQP8cR. Introduced by Chairman Menendez, it currently has 10 cosponsors and awaits a vote on the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), a long time advocate of Armenian American issues and a cosponsor of S. Res. 410, has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill. The Senate operates under different rules than the House, making it much more difficult to pass an Armenian Genocide resolution. A single Senator can place a hold on the measure, effectively blocking its passage.

WHERE THEY’VE BEEN – ANKARA, BAKU: Last week, Armenia’s Foreign Minister, Eduard Nalbandian, attended the inauguration of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, following his victory in the first direct election of that nation’s president. After the inauguration, Nalbandian walked over to Erdogan and personally handed him an invitation letter from Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan to attend the Armenian Genocide centennial commemoration in Yerevan on April 24, 2015 http://bit.ly/Z4S6Jx.

As is customary in Turkish politics, the new leader is expected to visit the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Azerbaijan in his first trip abroad. In Baku, Erdogan met with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev. Among various issues discussed, the two Turkic leaders pledged to support each other in their international campaign to smear Armenians. According to media reports, Erdogan promised to raise the Nagorno Karabakh issue at the upcoming NATO summit taking place in Newport, Wales, September 4-5. At the summit, Erdogan is planning to “demand [of NATO] the fulfillment of promises to Azerbaijan” on Nagorno Karabakh http://bit.ly/1lK8yJD. Which begs the question, what promises has NATO given to Azerbaijan on Nagorno Karabakh?

For more on NATO-Azerbaijan relations, see Gevorg Shahbazyan and Peter Kechichian’s analysis “NATO and Azerbaijan: an Unbalanced Partnership” here http://bit.ly/1qOfsLy.

The two authoritarian rulers also promised to do their utmost to advance denial of the Armenian Genocide in the run up to the centennial anniversary next year. “Turkey and Azerbaijan work in a coordinated manner to dispel the myth of the ‘Armenian genocide’ in the world,” Azerbaijani ruler Ilham Aliyev tweeted after his meeting with Erdogan http://bit.ly/Z8Hr0w.

WHERE THEY’RE GOING – NEWPORT, ANKARA: As mentioned above, the NATO summit in Wales started today. President Obama was flanked by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry. President Obama’s personal attendance comes on the heels of a trip to Eastern Europe. Armenian President Sargsyan announced this week that he plans to attend the summit and delivered remarks. It was just announced that Secretary Kerry held a tri-lateral meeting today with Sargsyan and Aliyev to discuss the Nagorno Karabakh conflict on the sidelines of the summit http://bit.ly/1o2u9Io

Following the NATO summit, Defense Secretary Hagel will travel to Ankara next week where he is expected to press the Turkish government to help confront the Islamic State http://1.usa.gov/Z5RovF.

HAPPY IN KARABAKH: Remember the “Happy in Yerevan” song? You know, the Armenian spoof of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” song that was produced by the U.S. Embassy in Armenia? Well, it looks like happiness is contagious, and Karabakhtsis have no immunization http://bit.ly/1pFfCIV. And if you still need more happiness in your life, check out the “Making of Happy in Karabakh,” which your Agenda writers found more entertaining than the actual music video http://bit.ly/1m3uGMq.

UPCOMING EVENTS IN WASHINGTON:

Thursday, September 11: The Woodrow Wilson Center, “Turkey’s Presidential Elections 2014 – What do they mean for Turkey’s democratization process, the Kurdish question and Turkey’s foreign policy?” http://bit.ly/Whn7rB.

LAST STATE PRIMARIES OF 2014 CYCLE: Voters in Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island will head to the polls next Tuesday, September 9th to elect their respective party nominees, closing out the primary season.

DAYS UNTIL GENERAL ELECTION: 61

ARMENIAN CONGRESSIONAL TRIVIA: Who was the first Armenian American elected to the U.S. Congress? Bonus points if you can tell me what party and state he/she represented. The first person to correctly respond will get a shout out in the next edition of Assembly Agenda.

Send tips, suggestions, comments, complaints and corrections to taniel@aaainc.org. If you don’t already, please follow me on Twitter @Taniel_Shant and follow the Armenian Assembly of America @ARAMAC_DC.