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.

GET THE ASSEMBLY AGENDA emailed to your Blackberry, iPhone, or other mobile device instantly. Just enter your email address here http://www.aaainc.org/index.php?id=286   

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.

GET THE ASSEMBLY AGENDA emailed to your Blackberry, iPhone, or other mobile device instantly. Just enter your email address here http://www.aaainc.org/index.php?id=286