Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was excoriated as “spineless” and “despicable” for blocking a Senate resolution to formally recognize the Armenian genocide, told Axios Sunday that he’d cast the vote at the behest of the White House.
In the hours before the vote on Nov. 13, Graham had been in an Oval Office meeting with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Donald Trump. Axios reported that Graham had “hurried back to the Senate floor” immediately after the meeting and became the sole holdout in a bipartisan effort to pass the resolution by unanimous consent.
Graham said at the time that lawmakers shouldn’t “sugarcoat history or try to rewrite it.” The senator, however, offered a different reason for his dissent in an interview with Axios.
After his meeting with Erdoğan and Trump, Graham said a White House legislative affairs official had asked him to “please object” to the resolution — which sought to officially recognize as genocide the 1915 massacre and displacement of Armenians carried out by the Ottoman Empire, the precursor to the country of Turkey.
“I said sure,” Graham recalled of his response to the request. “The only reason I did it is because [Erdoğan] was still in town ... That would’ve been poor timing. I’m trying to salvage the relationship if possible.”
Graham added that he’d felt uncomfortable about blocking the resolution “because I like Bob [Menendez],” the New Jersey Democrat who introduced the measure.
“He’s been working on this for years, but I did think with the president of Turkey in town that was probably more than the market would bear,” Graham said, stressing that he would “not … object next time” to the measure.
Last week, when Menendez and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced the Armenian genocide resolution again, Graham indeed did not seek to block it. But the resolution failed to pass anyway ― obstructed this time by another Trump ally, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.).
According to Axios, the White House “asked” Perdue to block the resolution.
A spokesperson for the senator told the outlet that Perdue had objected to the measure “due to concerns that [its] passage ... would jeopardize the sensitive negotiations going on in the region with Turkey and other allies.”
After the resolution failed to pass for the second time, Menendez lamented the inability of “the greatest superpower on the face of the earth” to speak the “truth of history.”
The lawmaker vowed to continue bringing the issue to the Senate floor.
“I think Armenian-Americans, the world, and history should record who stands on the side of recognizing genocide for what it is — and who does not,” Menendez said in a statement.
The failed Senate votes come on the heels of the successful passage of a similar resolution in the House of Representatives, which voted 405-11 last month in favor of the measure.
Erdoğan immediately lambasted the House vote, saying that American lawmakers had “no right to give lessons to Turkey.”
He later asserted his belief that the U.S. Senate would not pass a similar resolution and “repeat the mistake the House of Representatives made.”
“I believe the Senate will act prudently,” the Turkish president said at a Maryland event.