WASHINGTON — House Republicans and Democrats tossed aside the diplomacy usually reserved for a NATO ally and unanimously approved a measure Tuesday that underscored their fury over attacks by the Turkish president’s bodyguards against peaceful protesters on May 16.
Lawmakers voted 397-0 to pass a resolution that condemned the clash in Washington last month and called for the members of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail who were involved in the melee to be brought to justice. More than 30 House members didn’t cast votes.
Rep. Ed Royce of California, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, called the violence an “act of suppression on American soil” and an affront to the First Amendment rights of U.S. citizens. Yet the conduct of Erdogan’s armed bodyguards has gone largely unchallenged, said Royce, who sponsored the resolution.
Turkey rebuffed the resolution, accusing legislators of steps that “distort and politicize” matters.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu said in a statement Wednesday that the bipartisan resolution was “against the spirit of alliance and partnership” between Turkey and the United States.
The strong bipartisan support for the measure reflected lingering anger on Capitol Hill over the incident. But the House resolution carries no force of law. Although the State Department continues to investigate the matter, the Trump administration released two members of Erdogan’s detail after holding them briefly following the clash. The guards returned to Turkey with Erdogan.
Nonetheless, pressure has been mounting on the Trump administration not to let the attacks go unpunished even as American officials seek to allay Ankara’s objections to a key part of the U.S. strategy for defeating Islamic State militants in Syria.
The demonstrators had gathered outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in downtown D.C. awaiting Erdogan’s return from a meeting with President Donald Trump. Erdogan’s bodyguards were seen on the videos hitting and kicking the protesters, who wound up with injuries ranging from concussions, broken and loose teeth, and a popped blood vessel in the eye.
One video shared on social media even showed Erdogan watching the melee from his car. The video showed him later exiting the vehicle and peering toward the chaos.
House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called the incident an outrage that the U.S. cannot tolerate. He acknowledged Turkey is a fellow NATO member, but said the incident gives weight to the perception that the U.S. allows Turkey’s leader to bring strongman tactics along with him when he visits the U.S. capital. Last year, a similar scuffle erupted outside a nuclear security summit that Erdogan attended in Washington.
“The conduct must change,” Hoyer said. “There must be consequences for this unprovoked attack.”
Senate Republicans and Democrats also are demanding action. A group of senators last month urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to order the Turkish government to waive any claims to immunity for the bodyguards. If the Turkish government won’t agree, the senators said Tillerson should revoke the diplomatic credentials of Serdar Kilic, Turkey’s ambassador, and rescind visas for other unspecified Turkish government officials.
But Turkey has pushed back, taking offense at the mounting criticism.
Turkey’s embassy blamed the violence on demonstrators, saying they aggressively provoked Turkish-American citizens gathered to see Erdogan. The embassy alleged, without evidence, that the demonstrators were associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade-long insurgency against Turkey and is considered a terrorist group by the United States.
Erdogan’s government also summoned the U.S. ambassador in Ankara to protest what it called “aggressive and unprofessional actions” by American security personnel against Turkish bodyguards during the incident. Turkey didn’t specify who the personnel were or what actions it deemed inappropriate, but video from the scene had showed Washington Metropolitan police struggling to protect the protesters.
The resolution, approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, calls for “any Turkish security official who directed or participated in efforts by Turkish security forces to suppress peaceful protests outside of the Turkish ambassador’s residence” to be charged and prosecuted under U.S. law.
The measure also tracks with the senators’ demands that the State Department seek waivers of immunity for any Turkish security detail members who engaged in assault.