White House says it has the 67 votes needed to ratify arms-control treaty

The White House expressed confidence Wednesday in a lame-duck Senate vote on the START arms-control treaty between the U.S. and Russia, hours after the treaty’s top proponents appeared in the Senate to press their case.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl’s (Ariz.) opposition won’t be enough to derail the treaty, which needs 67 Senate votes to be ratified.

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“I think the treaty will come up and I think the treaty will be voted on and I think we’ll have the votes to pass it,” Gibbs said, adding that President Obama “will push forward on having the Senate ratify the START Treaty before the end of the year.”

Gibbs’s comment followed Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenTop Oversight and Foreign Affairs Dems ask Black Cube for answers on alleged Iran deal op Biden, Corker honored with Freedom House human rights awards What's wrong with the Democratic Party? Just look at California MORE’s assertion on Tuesday that a failure to ratify the new nuclear arms-reduction treaty “endangers our national security” because it means the U.S. would not have nuclear inspectors in Russia.

Earlier Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump lashes out at 'rigged' Russia probe in pair of tweets Clapper: 'More and more' of Steele dossier proving to be true Republicans are strongly positioned to win Congress in November MORE pointedly declared to Senate reporters that the treaty cannot be postponed. Clinton came to the chamber where she served from 2001 to 2009 for a breakfast meeting on the treaty with Senate Democratic leaders and Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Dick Lugar (Ind.).

Hopes for a December vote were thrown in doubt Tuesday after Kyl urged that the treaty vote be delayed until January, when Republicans will hold six more Senate seats. Mindful that the math will be more difficult in the next Congress, Clinton, Lugar and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John KerryJohn Forbes KerryJohn Kerry to NYU Abu Dhabi: We can't address world problems by 'going it alone' Juan Williams: Trump's dangerous lies on Iran Pompeo: US tried, failed to achieve side deal with European allies MORE (D-Mass.) all argued that the treaty is overdue for floor action.

“This treaty is ready to be voted on by the United States Senate,” Clinton said, noting that 18 committee hearings have been held and the Foreign Relations panel already passed the treaty on a 14-4 bipartisan vote.

“Some have said we should hit the ‘pause’ button, that it is too difficult to do this treaty in a lame-duck session. I strongly disagree. ... We can and we must go forward now with the new START Treaty during the lame-duck session.”

In his Tuesday statement, Kyl said he told Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell not yet ready to change rules for Trump nominees The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate Trump to press GOP on changing Senate rules MORE (D-Nev.) that a vote on the treaty should not be held before the new Congress, “given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization” of the nuclear weapons complex.

Kyl is also opposing the treaty because he says he is concerned about maintaining a modern, working nuclear stockpile. But Gibbs said the White House “shares the concerns about modernizing the program,” and added that Obama is willing to meet with Kyl if necessary.

For their part, Kerry, Clinton and Lugar pointed out that Obama has already pledged to seek more funds for modernization. In response to Kyl’s claim that the treaty is being “rushed,” Kerry noted that he already delayed the treaty several times earlier this year at the request of Republicans.

“We have reached out for months,” he said.

Kerry also insisted the current sitting senators have responsibility for the treaty’s ratification, rather than the incoming Congress, because the treaty has been reviewed and examined by the current Senate.

Kerry and Kyl stayed in fairly close contact throughout Wednesday, despite the sharp words. They were seen talking closely during a long subway ride into the Senate for votes, and Kerry even left a committee meeting he was leading to meet with Kyl and talk more.

Lugar, a 33-year senator and a well-respected Republican voice on foreign affairs who is key to securing GOP support, spoke in an uncharacteristically raised voice to argue that thousands of nuclear missiles are still aimed at American cities.

“This treaty must be ratified, and it must be ratified in this session of Congress,” Lugar said. “This is very serious. We are at a point where we are unlikely to have either the treaty or modernization unless we get real.”

It is unclear how many GOP votes Kyl can control. Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerFreed American 'overwhelmed with gratitude' after being released from Venezuela Former US prisoner Josh Holt returns from Venezuela Hatch, Trump say American held in Venezuela returning to US MORE of Tennessee and Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonOvernight Defense: Trump decision on Korea summit coming 'next week' | China disinvited from major naval exercise | Senate sends VA reform bill to Trump Senate sends major VA reform bill to Trump's desk Senate panel heading toward June hearing for Trump's next VA pick MORE of Georgia supported the treaty during committee, and it is likely that Lugar could persuade at least a few others to cross the aisle.

Gibbs said ratifying the treaty is the first test of whether Democrats and Republicans can achieve bipartisanship, noting that treaties like START have traditionally passed with wide bipartisan support.

“I think this is going to be a test of the degree to which both sides can work together,” Gibbs said.