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Armenia Vote a Test for Pelosi

Dimming prospects that the House will take up a resolution to redefine a 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide have threatened to cast a shadow over Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) first foray into foreign policy not directly tied to the Iraq War.

Facing opposition from within her own party, including one of her closest advisers, Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.), Pelosi remained vague Wednesday on when or whether the measure would be scheduled on the House floor.

“Whether it will come up or not … remains to be seen,” Pelosi said, stating that she is working with the measure’s sponsors to determine how to proceed.

Although the Californian told a Sunday news program that the House would vote on the measure, which she has backed, support for the resolution among both Democrats and Republicans has ebbed in the days since the Foreign Affairs Committee voted on the bill last week.

In addition, both President Bush and House Republicans have denigrated the proposal, questioning its timing and accusing Democrats of attempting to alienate an ally in the Iraq War.

“With all these pressing responsibilities, one thing Congress should not be doing is sorting out the historical record of the Ottoman Empire,” Bush said on Wednesday. “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.”

Democratic leaders have denied those allegations — noting the resolution does not target the current Turkish government — but even so, rank-and-file Members in the majority echoed those concerns this week.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), chairman of the Helsinki Commission, and Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, issued a letter to Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) Tuesday to assert that the measure would damage diplomatic relations with Turkey and potentially further destabilize Iraq.

“Diplomatic relations between our two nations are clearly strained,” Hastings said at a press conference Wednesday, along with Tanner, Murtha and Reps. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.).

Nonetheless, even as those Democratic opponents lobbied against moving the bill to the House floor Wednesday, several said the measure should be viewed as a success for Pelosi.

“It’s two very different issues,” said Wexler, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe. “I do believe the Speaker has accomplished a very significant accomplishment in raising the consciousness of the issue.”

Murtha, a longtime opponent of the measure, similarly defended Pelosi, stating: “She feels morally committed to this issue. It’s just, is it practical at this point to go forward with it?”

According to online legislative records maintained by the Library of Congress, the Armenian resolution currently has 214 co-sponsors but has lost the endorsement of 21 lawmakers, including 14 who formally abandoned the bill in October.

One Democratic lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, remains listed as a co-sponsor of the measure, but said he remains uncertain whether he will vote for its passage.

“I don’t think this issue is meant to be a foreign policy thrust on the part of the Democrats,” the lawmaker said, and added: “I don’t view this as a setback for the Speaker.”

Murtha said Wednesday, however, that he estimates between 55 and 60 Democrats likely would oppose the bill if a vote were taken immediately.

“If it were to run today, it would not pass,” he added. After leaving the press conference, Murtha said of Democratic leaders: “I think they did miscalculate” support for the measure.

Republican Rep. Ray LaHood (Ill.), who also is listed as co-sponsor of the measure, echoed Murtha’s sentiment and suggested that Democrats may have not given the issue enough attention.

Pelosi “got ahead of her troops. This is the first time it’s happened. She and her staff have learned a very hard lesson,” he said. “These leadership jobs are not easy, particularly when they have a fractured Caucus like they do.”

Should Democrats shelve the measure, it would mirror a decision made in 2000 by then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who canceled a vote on the same resolution at the request of then-President Clinton.

Earlier this year, Republicans targeted Pelosi after she met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a Middle East trip to Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Saudi Arabia with a contingent of Democratic House Members and one Republican lawmaker.

The trip was criticized by the White House and drew the ire of most Republican Members back home, particularly after the Israeli government refuted remarks Pelosi made in Syria that Israel was ready to engage in peace negotiations with the al- Assad regime.

In the meantime, Democrats faced other headaches Wednesday in the House, prompting leadership to scrub an expected vote on revised rules targeting the government’s wiretapping and surveillance programs.

Republicans claimed credit for the delay on reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was prompted by a GOP-authored amendment that was to be offered under a parliamentary procedure known as a motion to recommit.

“Our proposal gives Democrats a very simple choice: They can allow our intelligence officials to conduct surveillance on likes of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida or prohibit them from doing so and jeopardize our national security,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “Every member of the Majority will now have the opportunity to go on record and take a firm position for or against giving our intelligence community all the tools they need to keep America safe.”

But Democrats criticized the expected amendment.

“Their motion to recommit is an attempt to take a political shot on a critical national security bill, and we’re not going to let them play politics with our nation’s security,” said Kristie Greco, spokeswoman for House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).