GOP on nuke treaties: Love ‘em, when Republican is president

When Congress votes on the Iran nuclear agreement, expected soon, it is likely that every Republican senator, with one possible exception, will vote to disapprove. So will virtually all House Republicans. 

Most GOP members did not even wait for the ink to dry on the agreement to vigorously oppose the deal presented to Congress on September 14. They did not bother to read the 120 page document, study the details, wait for hearings or consult with experts. 

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellIf 'bipartisanship' is now a dirty word, how about a rebranding? Trump 'absolutely' qualified to be president, GOP rep says This week: Zika, Puerto Rico fights loom ahead of recess MORE (R-Ky.) said of the agreement: “It appears we’ve lost the chance today to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program — and that that will now become a challenge for the next President to confront.” Republican candidates for president were even more incendiary.   Texas Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump's support among white Protestant Republicans ticks up GOP senator pushes Trump to adopt 'constitutional agenda' Trump: Cruz, Kasich shouldn't speak at convention without endorsement MORE charged: “This deal is no different than calling the Iranian Supreme Leader, asking if they’re developing nuclear weapons, and taking his word for it.” 

These votes on nuclear arms deals fit into a clear pattern: If a Democratic president negotiates a nuclear arms agreement, Republicans will overwhelmingly oppose it. If a Republican president presents a treaty to Congress, Republicans will by-and-large loyally fall in line behind their president. 

For example, in 2002, President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). It was a scant three pages long, reducing strategic nuclear weapons to 1,700 - 2,200 and providing zero verification. 

No matter. Republicans joined Democrats and unanimously gave it the seal of approval by a 95-0 vote. 

Democrats were also united in support, as they traditionally have been whether the nuclear arms agreement was agreed to by a Republican or Democratic president. 

Eight years later, President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaDems celebrate anniversary of gay marriage ruling Cannabis conversation urged at North American Leaders Summit Obama: 'There's still work to do' for gay community MORE’s New START agreement further reducing strategic nuclear weapons and containing many more detailed provisions struggled in the Senate before narrowly clearing the two-thirds majority needed for Senate approval of ratification 71 – 26. Thirteen Republicans voted “aye” while 26 voted “nay.”

This disparity is not a recent pattern. President Richard Nixon’s Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) in 1972 easily cleared the Senate 88 – 2 with the opposition of only one independent conservative Republican (James Buckley of New York) and one Democrat (James Allen of Alabama). 

When Jimmy Carter presented the Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement (SALT II) to the Senate a few years later, the treaty was strongly opposed by most Republicans (and some Democrats) and eventually was shelved after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. 

When Carter’s successor, Ronald Regan negotiated a new agreement with Russia focusing on intermediate range (INF) nuclear weapons, Republicans were back in line. The 1988 vote was 93-5, with only one Democrat and four Republican hold-outs.

Reagan’s Republican successor George H.W. Bush’s first Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) pact with the Soviets in 1991 easily cleared the Senate by a vote of 93-6, with five Republican no votes. 

Then came a Democratic president, Bill ClintonBill ClintonPoll: Voters divided on role of government in gun control Trump details '50 facts' attacking Clinton Clinton slams Trump on immigration in Arizona op-ed MORE. In 1999, his Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was annihilated in the Senate 48-51, with Republicans voting no 4–51. 

The agreement that proved the rule: the Chemical Weapons Convention. The CWC banning chemical weapons was signed at the end of George H.W. Bush’s term in 1993, but did not come up for a vote in the Senate until 1997, four years later in Clinton’s second term. Faced with a hybrid Bush-Clinton treaty, Republicans split almost down the middle, 29 in favor and 26 opposed. 

The overwhelming Republican vote expected against the agreement to stem Iran’s nuclear arms program sits securely with this history of partisan Republican votes on arms agreements. It is not the content that is important; it is the president. 

Isaacs is senior fellow at Council for a Livable World and Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and has worked on nuclear arms agreements for more than 40 years.

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