Obama aims for second lame-duck victory with START treaty push

President Obama invoked Ronald Reagan and other past GOP leaders in a final push Saturday to win Republican votes for the New START nuclear arms treaty.

Senate ratification of the treaty would give Obama his second major bipartisan achievement of the lame-duck and allow him to regain footing after the midterm elections that he described as a “shellacking.”

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Obama touted his recent work with congressional Republican leaders to pass an $858 billion tax relief and unemployment benefits package.

“Before going away for the holiday break, I’m hopeful we can also come together on another urgent national priority – and that is, the new START treaty that will reduce the world’s nuclear arsenals and make America more secure,” Obama said in a weekly address delivered Saturday.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said this week the treaty must be ratified in the lame-duck session or it would have to undergo months of new hearings and review in the 112th Congress.

Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the lead Republican critic of the treaty, has said repeatedly that there is not enough time in the post-election legislative session to give START adequate consideration.

But Obama warned against waiting.

“Further delay comes at a cost,” he said. “Every minute we drag our feet is a minute that we have no inspectors on the ground at those Russian nuclear sites.”

The Senate debated the treaty on Thursday and Friday. It will set it aside on Saturday to consider the DREAM Act, which would grant legal residency to illegal immigrants under a certain age, and repeal of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell" policy.

The upper chamber is expected to resume consideration of START at the beginning of next week.

Obama noted that the former Soviet Union and the United States each had approximately 25,000 nuclear weapons in the mid-80s and have since reduced those stockpiles by 70 percent.


“That progress would not have been possible without strategic arms control treaties,” Obama said.

“During the past year, however, our old treaty with Russia expired, and without a new one, we won’t be able to verify Russia’s nuclear arsenal, which would undercut President Reagan’s call to trust, but verify, when it comes to nuclear weapons,” he added.

The president also cited former Republican President George H.W. Bush as a supporter and repeated the famous declaration of former Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (Mich.) that “politics stops at the water’s edge.”

Vandenberg worked with the Democratic Truman administration in the late 1940s to establish the Marshall Plan to rebuild post-war Europe and the North American Treaty Alliance (NATO).

Obama tried to defuse the partisan controversy that has embroiled the treaty in recent days.

“Ratifying a treaty like START isn’t about winning a victory for an administration or a political party. It’s about the safety and security of the United States of America,” Obama said.

Obama warned the lack of an nuclear arms control treaty undermined U.S.-Russian relations and threatened to complicate other security issues, such as enforcing sanctions against Iran and re-supplying military forces in Afghanistan.

He noted that military leaders such as General James “Hoss” Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have called for a new treaty.

“And that’s why every president since Ronald Reagan has pursued a treaty like START, and every one that has been reviewed by the Senate has passed with strong bipartisan support,” Obama said, invoking Reagan’s name a second time in his short address.

Obama said the Senate has reviewed the treaty for over seven months and held 18 hearings on it. Already several Republicans have voiced support, including Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.), ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.