Senate Eyes Final START Vote Wednesday

(Dec. 21) -Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) speaks at a press conference today alongside other GOP lawmakers opposed to ratifying a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia. The Senate could vote to ratify the pact as soon as tomorrow (Mark Wilson/Getty Images).
(Dec. 21) -Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) speaks at a press conference today alongside other GOP lawmakers opposed to ratifying a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia. The Senate could vote to ratify the pact as soon as tomorrow (Mark Wilson/Getty Images).

WASHINGTON -- The Senate looks set to ratify the New START treaty Wednesday after GOP commitments to back it appeared to ensure 67 votes to approve the treaty (see GSN, Dec. 20).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday the chamber will vote on cloture on the arms-reduction accord with Russia during a series of votes at 2 p.m. today and may wrap up consideration Wednesday.

"There is a way clear that we can complete this sometime tomorrow," Reid said, citing conversations with Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Members of both parties said the White House now has enough GOP support to ensure ratification. All 58 Democrats appear set to back the agreement.

"The question is not if it passes, but when it passes," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) a supporter.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced he would vote to ratify the treaty on Monday. Other GOP Senators including Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) have indicated they will be satisfied by planned changes to ratification resolution language to reflect a White House commitment to fund missile defense. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) is shopping the amendment to the resolution of ratification.

The amendment does not tweak treaty language, so its passage would not force the United States to renegotiate the accord with Russia.

Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah) said today he expected to back the treaty.

Votes from all those senators would provide well more than the 67 votes needed for ratification.

Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Corker indicated support Monday. They joined Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and GOP Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and George Voinovich of Ohio as expected supporters.

Republican leadership is lobbying against ratification in the lame duck, leaving the vote count unsure. Some GOP senators who have made less than ironclad commitments could reverse course. Still, ratification tomorrow appears likely.

During a press conference this morning with six other GOP opponents of the treaty, Kyl complained about the timing of the START debate, right before the Senate adjourns, saying “very few members are paying much attention.” Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) echoed Kyl’s concerns about timing, saying Democrats were trying to push the accord through “under the cover of Christmas.”

And Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called out members of his own party who are planning to back the treaty’s passage before the end of the year, saying he is “not proud of this process."

"I am not proud of this lame-duck," Graham added. "I am not proud of what we've been doing as a party."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, lent his voice to an administration push for quick Senate action when he urged senators this morning to back the treaty before the end of the lame-duck session.

"I strongly support the Senate voting to give its advice and consent to ratification of the New START treaty this week," said Gates, a Bush administration holdover who has credibility with Capitol Hill Republicans.

Gates said the treaty will enhance strategic stability at lower numbers of nuclear weapons, provide a rigorous inspection regime including on-site access to Russian missile silos, strengthen the United States' leadership role in stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and provide the necessary flexibility to structure our strategic nuclear forces to best meet U.S. national security interests.

"This treaty stands on its merits, and its prompt ratification will strengthen U.S. national security," Gates said.

December 21, 2010
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WASHINGTON -- The Senate looks set to ratify the New START treaty Wednesday after GOP commitments to back it appeared to ensure 67 votes to approve the treaty (see GSN, Dec. 20).