The Assembly Agenda: This Week in Washington DC: June 2-5, 2015

 

By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)

AAANews Blog

June 2, 2015

Congress
returns this week with a full slate, US aid to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh is
under consideration, and Turkish parliamentary elections are slated for June 7.
Welcome to the Assembly Agenda, your
guide to Armenian American issues in Washington, DC.

A lot has
happened this year with the Armenian Genocide centennial commemorations taking
place around the world. With everything going on, it’s easy to forget about
important legislation and key events taking place in Washington that shape the
outcome of our advocacy. So, in the words of Eminem, it’s back to reality, and
on to the Agenda…

CONGRESS: The Senate returned for a rare Sunday session as the Patriot Act
was set to expire. At issue are the controversial NSA provisions on warrantless
wiretapping and bulk collection of American citizens’ phone records. Republican
Presidential hopeful Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) filibustered the Act’s renewal
last week. He objected to the NSA provisions and continued to block advancement
on Sunday, causing the Act to expire while putting himself at loggerheads with
key members of his caucus. The Senate will be busy this week working on an
alternative homeland security measure, the USA Freedom Act, a watered down
version of the Patriot Act which has already passed the House.

The House
returned last night for votes and is set to tackle a number of bills, namely
twelve related to funding the government.

$$$ FOR ARMENIA, NAGORNO KARABAKH:

It’s summer
time in the nation’s capital and that means the appropriations process will
seriously begin with Congress in session 8 out of the 9 weeks ahead, and with a
budget in place, Republicans will try to complete as much of the process under
“regular order” as possible, read: 2016.

The Senate
has not yet scheduled a markup for the FY 2016 State, Foreign Operations, and
Related Programs (SFOPS) appropriations bill, which covers US assistance to
Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh (NK). However, the House has scheduled its SFOPS appropriations bill for markup on Wednesday,
June 3, 2015 at 10:30 AM
http://1.usa.gov/1FrUEjh.

Earlier this
year, Armenian Assembly of America Executive Director Bryan Ardouny testified before
the House SFOPS Appropriations subcommittee, outlining nine key policy
priorities of the Armenian American community with an overall request of not less
than $40 million for Armenia and $5 million for NK http://bit.ly/1LZSsI9.  

President
Obama’s FY2016 budget request calls for $22.36 million for Armenia with no
allocation for NK, a reduction of $2.34 million from FY 2015. The House
Appropriations Committee is headed by Chairwoman Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), a
co-chair of the Congressional Turkish Caucus http://bit.ly/1Jnpkae, and Ranking Member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY),
an active member of the Congressional Armenian Caucus http://bit.ly/armeniancaucus. The Assembly will continue to work with
House and Senate appropriators throughout the process to ensure the best
possible outcome for Armenia and NK.

ARMENIAN GENOCIDE TRUTH & JUSTICE
RESOLUTIONS:
The House
version of the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Resolution, H. Res. 154, now
has 62 cosponsors http://1.usa.gov/1FrXy7J, while the Senate version, S. Res. 140, boasts
20 cosponsors http://1.usa.gov/1BHOppY. These
bills are not to be confused with the traditional Armenian Genocide Resolution,
which passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2000, 2005, 2007, 2010, and
which passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2014.

Efforts in
the House to advance the Armenian Truth and Justice Resolution have been
checked by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) http://bit.ly/1J8HNHt. However, the Senate version has the support
of over 1/5 of the chamber and unlike his House counterpart, Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not publicly opposed Armenian Genocide
recognition efforts. Notable cosponsors to the Senate Armenian Truth and Justice
Resolution include Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Both
Republicans have announced their candidacy for President of the United States.
While neither Rubio nor Cruz cosponsored the Armenian Genocide resolution in
the last Congress, Senator Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee (SFRC), did vote YES during the committee passage. Senator Cruz is
not a member of the SFRC so he didn’t have a chance to vote on it. However,
Senator Rand Paul does serve on the SFRC and was absent for the 2014 vote http://bit.ly/1gQP8cR.

ERDOGAN THE LIBERATOR?: Turks will head to the polls on June 7 in
parliamentary elections largely seen as a referendum on Turkish President Recep
Tayip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party. Erdogan’s
goal is to gain a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which would enable him to
strengthen the role of the Presidency by weakening the role of the Prime
Minister, thus completing Turkey’s transformation into an authoritative
executive/presidential government. In typical fashion, Erdogan and Prime
Minister Ahmet Davutoglu hit the campaign trail and made some pretty
astonishing statements. For instance, at a campaign rally over the weekend,
Erdogan called for Muslims to invade Israel and sack Jerusalem. “Conquest is
Mecca, conquest is Saladin, it’s to hoist the Islamic flag over Jerusalem again,”
Erdogan reportedly stated http://bit.ly/1eNzxBC. A few days earlier, at another campaign
stop to mark the opening of an airport in a Kurdish province, Davutoglu
reportedly stated “By Allah’s will, Jerusalem belongs to the Kurds, the Turks,
the Arabs, and to all Muslims. And as our forefathers fought side by side at
Gallipoli, and just as our forefathers went together to liberate Jerusalem with
Saladin, we will march together on the same path [to liberate Jerusalem]” http://bit.ly/1FrYKrI. Last year, Erdogan displayed his true anti-Armenian
colors when he addressed those who questioned his ethnicity: “I was called
a Georgian. I apologize for this, but they even said [something] worse: They
called me an Armenian” http://wapo.st/1tYU6jf.  

This
provocative and racist rhetoric is matched only by Erdogan’s crack down on
civil society and the press. Turkey ranks #1 in the world for the most
imprisoned journalists. Weeks before last year’s election, Erdogan’s judges
blocked the country’s internet access to Twitter and YouTube, as an audio
recording was released implicated Erdogan’s inner circle in plotting events
that would justify sending Turkish troops into Syria to attack Christians and
Kurds. See Kessab and Kobani. This year, Erdogan’s judges have again blocked
access to YouTube, this time after a video was posted showing trucks belong to
the Turkish intelligence agency, MIT, delivering thousands of weapons and
munitions to ISIS in Syria http://nyti.ms/1dcy3j4.    

UPCOMING EVENTS IN DC:

–         
Coptic
Solidarity will hold its 6th annual conference, this year entitled
“100 Years Later: Middle East Christians Face Another Genocide” on June 11-13,
2015. Yours truly will be a panelist on Friday, June 12, at 4:30 PM http://bit.ly/1ESOiI8;

–         
The Knights
and Daughters of Vartan will hold their 2015 Grand Convocation, July 15-18,
2015 in Washington, DC http://bit.ly/1GW60R3.  

ARMENIAN AMERICAN POLTICAL TRIVIA: Name the highest ranking US government
official of Armenian ancestry. Bonus points if you can name the administration
in which this person served.

The Assembly Agenda: This week in Washington, D.C. – December 18, 2014

 

By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)

AAANews Blog

December 18, 2014

Welcome to the last Assembly Agenda of 2014! Below is a full recap of what went down on Capitol Hill when the 113th Congress came to a close this week. While I explain the “Cromnibus,” new ambassadors head to Armenia and Azerbaijan, retiring Congressman Moran looks to line his pockets with Azeri petro-dollars, and Jeb Bush leans in, here’s the Assembly Agenda: your go-to source for Armenian American issues in Washington, DC.

HOUSE: Last Friday, the House of Representatives adjourned for the year after passing a $1.1 trillion budget bill known as the “CRomnibus,” for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. Part continuing resolution, or “CR,” and part “omnibus,” the legislation establishes new funding levels for the entire federal government through September 30, 2015, except for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS will be funded at FY14 levels through March 30, 2015, which will allow the incoming Republican Congress a chance to debate and potentially make changes to the department that are critical to enforcing President Obama’s post-election executive order on immigration, which was what caused the delays in the lame-duck budget process in the first place. In 2014 the House passed 11 out of 12 appropriations bills, nearly completing the process, whereas the Senate passed none. These 11 funding bills are the “omnibus” portion of the massive spending bill, while the “CR” part refers to the continuation of FY14 funding for DHS, hence the term “CRomnibus.”

While specific funding levels were not delineated for Armenia, Karabakh, and Azerbaijan in the cromnibus, the bill provides approximately $49 billion for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) for FY15 overall, and $1.9 billion less than the President’s request. US aid to Armenia in the cromnibus will follow President Obama’s request for a total of $24.7 million in FY15. The President’s request maintains military aid parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Also, the cromnibus includes language adopted by the Senate on Nagorno Karabakh and maintained Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. For a break down of the numbers, see here: http://bit.ly/1lNC7r3.

– 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. However, the Churches Bill was not scheduled for a vote on the House floor before adjourning for the year. 

The Armenian Genocide Truth & Justice Resolution, H. Res. 227, was not brought up in committee. Given the divergence of this bill from previous Armenian Genocide bills, and the problems Chairman Royce and HFAC Ranking Member Elliot Engel (D-NY) encountered when passing the Churches Bill, H. Res. 227 languished, garnering fewer cosponsors than resolutions adopted by HFAC in past Congresses.

SENATE: Like the House, the Senate finally passed the cromnibus bill and sent it to President Obama late Saturday night. Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had hoped to finish his chambers work shortly after the House wrapped up, however, a last-ditch effort by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) in opposition to the spending measure forced the Senate to continue working through the weekend. Cruz’s actions did two things: First, it opened up floor time for Reid to begin moving Obama’s pending appointments earlier than originally planned; Second, it caused Senators to scrap their weekend plans and return to the Capitol to vote on the cromnibus. Senator Kelly Ayote (R-NH) was already at the airport when she got the call to come back, missing her daughter’s ballet performance, while incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) had to cancel his planned trip to Iraq, Turkey, and Pakistan. Eventually, Cruz’s point of order would be defeated and the Senate ultimately passed the cromnibus spending package and sent it to the President for his signature.

– I’M LEAVING ON A JET PLANE: Following the budget vote in the Senate, Reid set up confirmation votes on a slew of President Obama’s nominees on Monday and Tuesday. Several vacancies were filled, including ambassador posts in Yerevan and Baku. As expected, the Senate easily confirmed Richard M. Mills, Jr. and Robert F. Cekuta, as the next US ambassador to Armenia and Azerbaijan, respectively. For some background 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 had 10 cosponsors, but didn’t make it to the Senate floor. Outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), a long time advocate of Armenian American issues, was a cosponsor of S. Res. 410. However, he did not bring the resolution up for a vote. 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.

This year’s committee passage was historic as an Armenian Genocide resolution had not passed a Senate committee in almost 25 years. That bill, in 1990, was brought to the floor under the leadership of then-Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-KS), but failed two cloture votes after being filibustered by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV).

TURKISH, AZERBAIJANI, GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET: Also this week, the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia met in the Turkish city of Kars. The tri-lateral meeting is the fourth such meeting since the three began regular negotiations in this format in 2012 http://bit.ly/1v01HKL. The meeting is timely, given Russia’s decision the week prior to scrap the planed South Stream pipeline for an alternate pipeline that would deliver Russian natural gas to Europe via Turkey http://read.bi/1AfwUPJ.

MORAN TO LOBBY FOR AZERBAIJAN: Not even out of office, retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) has informed the House Ethics Committee that he is pursuing new employment for his post-Congress life. According to a report from the Sunlight Foundation, Moran has entered into negotiations to work for the Assembly of Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ). “This is true that retiring Congressman Jim Moran and Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan entered the negotiations for employment,” Kemal Oksuz, president of AFAZ said. “He will provide consulting and advising services to AFAZ in its activities in the United States.” http://bit.ly/1wNR3dk

WHAT WILL THE NEXT CONGRESS LOOK LIKE?: The last outstanding races of the 2014 midterm elections have finally been called. In Louisiana, incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) lost reelection to Congressman Bill Cassidy (R-LA). Cassidy was a member of the Azerbaijan Caucus during his time in the House, giving them another friend in the Senate. Two open seat Congressional races in the Bayou State also went to Republicans.

In Arizona, Republican Martha McSally defeated Democratic incumbent Ron Barber in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional district. The seat was formerly held by Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who voted YES on the Armenian Genocide resolution in the HFAC in 2007. Barber, a former staffer of Giffords’, succeeded her after she resigned following the attack on her life in 2011. Unknown to most Armenian Americans, Turkish PACs had been targeting this seat since the 2008 election cycle, funneling thousands of dollars to Giffords’ opponent.

With the final races called, the House will now have a Republican majority of 247-188 Democrat, the largest House majority for Republicans since the Hoover Administration.

The Senate will also now hold a Republican Majority of 54 seats, while Democrats will hold 46 (2 Independents caucus with Democrats). It is unclear if the incoming Senate Republicans will overturn the “nuclear option,” a rule change made by Reid in the 113th Congress to expedite presidential nominees by lowering the confirmation threshold of 60 votes to a simple majority of 51. 

Also, Rep. Ed Royce will continue to chair HFAC, while Senator Corker takes the gavel of the SFRC from Senator Menendez.

THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN BEGINS:

BUSH 45?: No, I’m not talking about beer. I’m talking about the possibility of a third President Bush. On Tuesday, former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush (1999-2007) announced that he is “actively exploring the possibility of running” for President of the United States in 2016. Essentially what this means is that he has formed a political action committee (PAC) to begin fundraising. While this sounds like big news, it really only brings him up to speed with other potential Republican candidates like Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) who already have their own leadership PACs.

For Armenian Americans, it’s important to note that in 2006 Governor Jeb Bush issued a proclamation recognizing the Armenian Genocide http://bit.ly/1xrERSn.

– Days until the Iowa caucuses: 396; Days until the 2016 election: 691

UPCOMING ARMENIAN ASSEMBLY EVENTS:

LOS ANGELES, CA: The Armenian Assembly’s California office is hosting a Summer Intern Alumni Happy Hour tonight at The Griffin in Los Angeles from 6:00 – 9:00 PM. For more info check out the event page on Facebook here http://on.fb.me/1sHUSCw.

BOCA RATON, FL: The Armenian Assembly South Florida Regional Council will host a 2015 Kick Off Reception at the Waterstone Resort in Boca Raton on Saturday, January 3, 2015 from 8:00 – 10:00 PM. You can download the invitation here http://bit.ly/1yZQhbi.

LOS ANGELES, CA: On Saturday, January 17, the Assembly’s Southern California Regional Council will host its annual New Year Gathering at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Krikor and Marlene Yerevanian in Tarzana from 6:00 – 9:00 PM. Click here to download the flyer http://bit.ly/1J6ae8C.

ARMENIAN CONGRESSIONAL TRIVIA: Congratulations to Hagop Koushakjian and Peter Melkonian who both correctly answered that Edward Djerejian is another prominent Armenian American currently working at a university in Texas. Hagop gets bonus points for answering that Djerejian is the founder and director of the James Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University in Houston. As I hinted, Djerejian served as US Ambassador to Syria under President Ronald Reagan, and as US Ambassador to Israel under President Bill Clinton. For more on Djerejian and his role at Rice, see here: http://bit.ly/1w0uvCa.

Thanks for reading Peter, and glad to know my dad is keeping up with my columns, too!

Peter has this week’s question: Name an Armenian American politician from Long Island, New York. Hint: this person served as supervisor of one of the island’s cities. Bonus points if you can name the city and extra points for naming the company this person founded.

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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