WASHINGTON — Key congressional opponents of an Armenian genocide resolution claimed Wednesday that they had the votes to kill the measure, as one-time supporters continued to abandon the controversial declaration.
With White House and Turkish pressure escalating, lawmakers on both sides acknowledged momentum had turned against the resolution, which describes the Ottoman Empire massacres of 1915-1923 as a genocide. The Capitol Hill endgame could now conclude by week's end, some House of Representatives members predict.
"If it were to run today, it would not pass," Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said at a late-morning news conference Wednesday . "I think the decision has been made by the members; (the resolution supporters) don't have the votes."
Murtha chairs the House defense appropriations subcommittee and is one of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's chief advisers. An adroit vote counter, he's been fighting against Armenian genocide resolutions since he helped turn back a 1987 proposal by a 201-189 vote. He joined with Florida Democratic Reps. Robert Wexler and Alcee Hastings in publicly opposing the measure Wednesday.
While not yet conceding defeat, the genocide resolution's authors admitted that they were losing altitude. Seven House members withdrew their co-sponsorship of the resolution on Monday, another four did the same on Tuesday and additional defections were considered likely.
The genocide resolution had 214 co-sponsors recorded as of late Wednesday afternoon. With 432 members of the House at present, the resolution would need at least 217 "yes" votes to pass if everyone showed up to vote.
"Right now, we're below the number of co-sponsors needed to assure passage," Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., said Wednesday. "I think the consensus of the Congress is that it would not pass right now."
Radanovich's co-author, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., added that "we're working hard to gauge where the members are," and he indicated that a final answer was likely to become apparent by Friday. The number of undecided House members, Schiff noted, is "still significant, but that number is declining."
Of the 214 listed co-sponsors, one died in April, one is a Puerto Rico delegate whose vote won't count if it affects the outcome and one is a lawmaker who has declared it is the "wrong time" for a vote now. Others are also considered likely to bolt.
"Some of those co-sponsors may not be as solid as we like," Radanovich noted. "It's a little iffy."
The Armenian genocide resolution has taken different forms in different years. But it primarily exists to put the congressional imprimatur on the genocide characterization. Turkish officials dispute the charge, saying that many died on all sides.
This year's version of the resolution states that "the Armenian genocide was conceived and carried out by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923." An estimated 1.5 million Armenians died, the resolution states, while 500,000 were expelled, resulting in "the elimination of the over 2,500-year presence of Armenians in their historic homeland."
The Bush administration, like administrations before it, opposes the measure as an insult to a key NATO ally. The U.S. occupation of Iraq has further intensified White House concerns, as upward of 70 percent of U.S. military cargo flowing into Iraq goes through Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.
"Congress has more important work to do than antagonizing a democratic ally in the Muslim world, especially one that is providing vital support for our military every day," Bush said at a morning news conference.
Resolution supporters say they won't seek to have the resolution brought up for a House vote if they know they'll lose. Although she is a resolution supporter who has previously promised to bring the measure for a vote, Pelosi on Wednesday left the door open for retreat.
"Whether it will come up or not, what the action will be, remains to be seen," Pelosi said.