WASHINGTON -- Bowing to pressure from the White House, a Republican senator blocked a resolution Thursday that would recognize the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago as genocide.
North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer said he thwarted the measure after White House officials called the timing inappropriate. President Donald Trump just returned from a NATO summit in London, where Turkey's role in the mass killing was discussed by NATO leaders. Turkey is a NATO member.
Cramer, who co-sponsored similar legislation in 2017 when he was in the House, said he agreed to the White House request because the vote was set so close to the NATO summit.
“I support the spirit of this resolution,'' Cramer said on the Senate floor. "I suspect 99 of my colleagues do, and at the right time, we may pass it. However, I do not think this is the right time.''
Cramer is the third GOP senator to block an attempt to adopt the nonbinding resolution without a roll call vote, a procedural move that would allow quick passage. The House passed the resolution overwhelmingly in October in what was widely seen as a rebuke to Turkey in the wake of its invasion of northern Syria.
An activist group, the Armenian National Committee of America, tweeted that Cramer's claim about timing was nonsensical.
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed around World War I, and many scholars see it as the 20th century's first genocide. Turkey disputes the description, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of a civil war.
It's been more than a century since the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, urgently warned in 1915 about the “campaign of race extermination'' against the Armenians, the group said. "So, when's the right time?"
Turkey has lobbied for years against U.S. recognition of the killings of Ottoman Armenians as genocide, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he wouldn’t recognize the resolution.
Instead, Turkey has instead called for a joint committee of historians to investigate the slayings.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a co-sponsor of the resolution, said that while Turkey is a NATO ally, "'allies can speak the truth to each other. We should never be afraid to tell the truth, and alliances grounded in lies are themselves unsustainable.''
There's no good reason for the administration to object to the resolution, Cruz added, “and the effect of doing so is to deny recognition of this chilling moment of history.”