U.S. House votes to sanction Turkey, recognize Armenian genocide

President Donald J. Trump disembarks Air Force Two Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Tuesday passed legislation with broad bipartisan support to impose sanctions against Turkey for its military invasion of northern Syria. 

Lawmakers also voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night to adopt a resolution that commemorates the Armenian genocide, when an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1923 in the Ottoman Empire, which is now Turkey. Turkey has long rejected that characterization and U.S. lawmakers had long been wary of angering a key ally. 

Virginia’s delegation voted in favor of both measures, with the exception of U.S. Rep. Don McEachin, a Richmond Democrat, who has been recovering from a medical procedure and did not vote.

The sanctions legislation passed the House by a vote of 403-16. It comes after the chamber voted earlier this month to approve a resolution condemning President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria. 

The bill — sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas) — would impose sanctions on specific Turkish officials connected to the invasion. It would also sanction financial institutions that knowingly bankrolled the invasion and it would bar U.S. defense services from being transferred to the Turkish government if they may be used by Turkey for military operations in northern Syria. 

Ahead of the vote, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused Trump of unleashing an escalation of chaos and insecurity in Syria when he announced plans to pull U.S. troops from the region. She warned that Trump had threatened lives, risked regional security and undermined U.S. “credibility as a trustworthy ally.” 

Trump’s critics on both sides of the aisle blame the president for allowing a Turkish incursion into the region that targeted U.S. Kurdish allies. There is also bipartisan legislation in the Senate to impose sanctions on Turkey, but its fate is uncertain. 

The House also voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night (405-11) to adopt a resolution that commemorates the Armenian genocide. 

Engel of the Foreign Relations Committee has said the House wants to send a clear signal with its recent actions regarding Turkey. “I think some of us are a little bit annoyed with Turkey, and we want them to know how much annoyed we are,” he told NPR. 

The genocide label is highly contentious and previous attempts to pass a similar resolution fell through in recent years, due in part to pushback from Turkey. The Turkish Embassy cautioned this week against any attempt by the House “to pass judgment on the events of 1915,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

Editor Robert Zullo contributed.