Republicans dig in their heels on nuclear treaty as Democrats push for vote

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) predicted victory Sunday for the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty, but his Republican counterpart said that unless there are changes to the preamble he is "absolutely" voting no.

"I think whether there are the votes to ratify depends on how much the Senate is jammed," Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said on "Fox News Sunday," saying his "prediction is coming true" that other business including the DREAM Act and the omnibus had swallowed time senators needed "to do it adequately."

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Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) announced on Sunday morning that he would oppose the New START nuclear treaty, a notable hardening of political lines in the foreign policy debate.

The Senate convenes at noon on Sunday with votes at 3 p.m., where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) might file for cloture to end debate that would set up a Tuesday cloture vote. If that passes, then Reid would schedule a vote to ratify START (requiring 67 votes) 30 hours later.

That vote is a higher hurdle because ratification requires 67 votes, while cloture to end debate requires only 60 votes.

Durbin said on "Fox News Sunday" that he was optimistic the treaty would make it over that hurdle. "I think we do," he said when asked whether Democrats had 67 votes. "We had 66 votes for those who wanted to move to this debate."

Armed Service Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that he expected the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), to bring other Republicans with him in supporting the treaty.

But one Republican who has previously indicated he was open to ratification, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said he does not think the treaty will be approved in the lame-duck session and that Democrats can't count on his support to make it to the 67-vote threshold.

"I'm not going to vote for START until I hear from the Russians" that the preamble of the treaty is no impediment to the U.S. being able to develop four stages of missile defense, Graham said on "Face the Nation."

And McConnell took a stand against the treaty just as President Obama has ramped up his efforts to cajole Republican senators to support it.

“I have decided that I cannot support the treaty,” McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union”. “I think the verification provisions are inadequate and I do worry about the missile defense implications of it.”

Obama sent a letter to McConnell on Saturday in attempt to reassure him and other Republicans about his administration’s commitment to missile defense.

“The New START treaty places no limitations on the development or deployment of our missile defense programs,” Obama wrote. “As the NATO summit meeting in Lisbon last month underscored, we are proceeding apace with a missile defense system in Europe designed to provide full coverage for NATO members on the continent, as well as deployed U.S. forces.”

Obama also delivered a weekly radio address Saturday urging Republicans to unite with Democrats behind the treaty, and reminding them of former Sen. Arthur Vandenberg’s (R-Mich.) statement that “politics stops at the water’s edge.”

McConnell acknowledged Obama’s letter but said it failed to address all of his concerns.


“An equally important question is how do the Russians view missile defense and how do our European allies view missile defense,” he said. “I’m concerned about it.” 

"Tell it to the Russians," Kyl said. "Send a letter to the Russians." The minority whip lamented that "we're just a rubber stamp for the administration and the Russians" without scrutinizing and tweaking the treaty.

McConnell said that Reid has tried to rush the treaty through the Senate without giving Republicans enough time for adequate review.

Obama noted Saturday that the Senate has held 18 hearings on the treaty, but McConnell said lawmakers who do not sit on the Foreign Relations Committee are only beginning to give it serious review.

“I think if they had taken more time with this — rushing it right before Christmas, it strikes me as trying to jam us,” McConnell said. “I know the members of the Foreign Relations Committee have spent a lot of time on this, but the rest of us haven’t.

“All of the sudden we’re once again trying to rush things right here before Christmas Eve,” he said. “I think that was not the best way to get the support of people like me.”

McConnell said Republicans offered to allow a vote on the treaty early next year, but Democrats rejected the offer in hope of ratifying it before the start of the new Congress.

Democrats continue to push the treaty's ratification as a national security issue that needs to be addressed immediately. "I think we need to bring this to a vote," Durbin said.

"If you really want to have a chance of passing START, you better start over," Graham said, adding that the lame-duck session had been "poisoned."

"Maybe next year we can straighten things out and have a chance to do it," he said.


—This story was updated at 11:10 a.m.

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