Dems reach magic number on arms treaty as GOP support builds

Senate Democrats appear to have the nine Republican votes they need to ratify the New START nuclear treaty this week and give President Obama his third major victory of the lame-duck session.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) told reporters Monday afternoon that he would vote to ratify the treaty and also support a motion to end debate, which the Senate will consider Tuesday.

“I believe it’s something that’s important for our country and I believe it’s a good move forward,” Brown said after emerging from a classified briefing in the Old Senate Chamber.

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He was the ninth Republican senator to announce publicly that he would vote to ratify or is leaning strongly in favor of doing so. All 58 members of the Democratic conference — including two independents, Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.) — support it.

“I believe we have the votes to pass this treaty,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said after the briefing.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, became the tenth Republican to back the treaty on Monday evening.

"I supported it in committee, I made a speech for it on the first day — sounds like it," he said when asked if he would vote 'yes.'

Kerry released to colleagues who attended Monday’s briefing a letter endorsing ratification from Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“This treaty has the full support of your uniformed military, and we all support ratification,” Mullen wrote in the letter to Kerry.

“I continue to believe that ratification of the New Start treaty is vital to U.S. national security,” Mullen concluded. 

Senate ratification requires 67 votes, or the support of two-thirds of the senators present in the chamber, assuming there is a quorum.

GOP senators — including those who plan to vote for the treaty and those who say they’ll oppose it — have told The Hill they expect the resolution of ratification to pass easily.

Two other GOP senators announced Monday afternoon they are likely to support the treaty.
 


“I’m leaning toward supporting the treaty but I want to makes sure our side gets a fair hearing,” Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.) said. 


Said Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio: “I support it.”
 


“We need the verification,” Voinovich added, referring to the absence of U.S. arms inspectors in Russia since the last START treaty expired in December 2009.

Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), a Republican member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he is also likely to vote for the treaty if the Obama administration answers some more questions about it and if Democratic leaders allow additional Republican amendments to receive votes. 
 

Corker said he plans to vote 'yes' unless the Senate debate becomes “derailed” in the next two days, but he could not say what kind of dramatic event could result in such a scenario.

Corker said the classified briefing held Monday did not reveal any new intelligence findings that would change his mind.

“I’m in the same place I was when I voted to pass it out of committee,” he said.

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Democratic leadership, announced Monday that Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) would also support the treaty. 


When later asked whether he would vote for the treaty, Cochran said: “I think so.”

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) said a recent letter from Obama reassured him enough to vote for ratification.

Obama sent a letter to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) over the weekend assuring him that the treaty would not prevent his administration from moving forward with missile defense systems.

“It takes care of me,” Bennett told The Associated Press.

The two Republican senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, have already announced they would vote for New START in the lame-duck session.

Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.), ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is an outspoken supporter who has worked for months to corral GOP votes. He has predicted for several days that the treaty will win ratification.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) may miss the final ratification vote because he underwent surgery for prostate cancer on Monday. His absence won’t affect the vote, assuming all other supporters show up, because 66 “aye” votes would make up two-thirds of 99.

Senate Democrats are also eyeing a pool of Republican senators who could give them additional votes. 


Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)


McCain told The Hill Monday afternoon he is still undecided about whether to support the treaty. 


He sponsored an amendment to the preamble that Kerry argued would have derailed the treaty. Fifty-nine senators voted to reject McCain’s amendment, which only 37 supported. 


McCain’s close ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has announced his opposition to ratifying the treaty in the lame-duck, and McCain’s home-state colleague, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), has emerged as the leading Republican critic and opponent of the treaty. If McCain supported it, he would do so despite Kyl’s strong objections. 


Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)


Kirk is a centrist who voted on Saturday to repeal the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which barred gays from serving openly. Democrats hope he will join them on New START as well. 


Kirk, a commander and intelligence specialist in the Navy reserves, is expected to be mindful of the strong endorsements that national military and intelligence leaders have given the treaty. 


Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said of the treaty: “I think the earlier, the sooner, the better. …. From an intelligence perspective only, are we better off with it or without it? We’re better off with it.”
 


Kirk voted for the McCain amendment.
 


Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)


Murkowski has shown a new streak of independence since winning reelection as a write-in candidate without support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). 

Murkowski on Saturday voted for repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and for the DREAM Act, which would give legal status to illegal immigrants under a certain age who came to the country before turning 16 years old. 


She was one of 66 senators to vote this month to proceed to the START treaty.

Murkowski said last week she was reviewing the treaty and had not yet reached a decision. 


—This story was updated at 6:47 p.m.