WASHINGTON — An Armenian genocide resolution has fallen into political limbo, with lawmakers continuing to abandon support but no final decision made about its future.
By Friday, the number of resolution co-sponsors had slipped to 211 from a one-time high of 226. The precipitous decline leaves resolution supporters holding a bad hand as they decide what to do next.
"I think they did miscalculate," said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a resolution opponent.
Hoping to shore up congressional support, the Armenian Assembly of America and the Armenian National Committee of America will be flying in supporters to Capitol Hill on Tuesday and Wednesday. The activists will be "meeting with as many members and staff as possible," said the Armenian Assembly's executive director, Bryan Ardouny.
"We're as hopeful as we can be," Spencer Pederson, a spokesman for Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., said Friday.
So far, though, supporters of the genocide resolution lack the votes to win in the House of Representatives. Unless they can get them, the measure won't be brought up. This means that resolution supporters eventually may have to choose between letting the issue linger without resolution or publicly acknowledging that they've lost for the time being and must come back later.
"Maybe it's not going to happen right now," Pederson said. "Maybe now isn't the right time."
The resolution declares that 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923. The resolution further states that "the failure of the domestic and international authorities to punish those responsible for the Armenian Genocide is a reason why similar genocides have recurred and may recur in the future."
The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Oct. 10 approved the resolution 27-21, with several members having reversed their previous support.
Turkish leaders acknowledge many deaths but say there was no genocide, which international law defines as the intention to destroy a national, ethnic or religious group. Turkey's paid lobbyists, as well as top Bush administration officials, warn that the resolution could undermine Turkey's cooperation with the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
Two more House members, Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and John "Randy" Kuhl, R-N.Y. , dropped off the resolution Thursday. A total of 14 lawmakers withdrew their co-sponsorship throughout the week. The House was out of session Friday, so there was no opportunity for other members to formally withdraw.
With 432 House members at present, a bill requires 217 votes to pass by simple majority. Bills often get far more votes on the floor than they have formal co-sponsors, so the co-sponsorship list doesn't perfectly predict a vote's outcome. On the other hand, close Capitol Hill observers say they can't recall the last time so many lawmakers had withdrawn their co-sponsorship of a bill.
"The millions that Turkey has spent have paid dividends," acknowledged Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Turkey reports spending about $300,000 a month on lobbying. The lobbyists include a former Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Robert Livingston, as well as a former House minority leader, Richard Gephardt.
Genocide resolution supporters consistently blame Turkey's lobbying campaign for the falloff in congressional support, with Armenian National Committee spokesman Aram Hamparian on Friday repeatedly accusing Turkey's supporters of "lies."
But a number of lawmakers who reversed their positions say they never heard from the Turkish lobbyists, or were heeding other concerns. Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., for instance, said lobbyists hadn't contacted him prior to his withdrawal of support on Monday. He credited his change of heart to his own reflections and following the controversy through media reports.
Another lawmaker, Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., said he changed his mind about the resolution after Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, cautioned that it might threaten U.S. efforts in Iraq.
"We have the truth on our side," Schiff said, "but the truth doesn't always win."