Senate votes to advance START; treaty on course for approval

The Senate has voted to advance the New START Treaty, setting up a final vote on ratification for Wednesday. 



A group of Republican senators supported ending debate on the treaty after discussion with those opposed to it during a closed-door meeting of the Senate Republican Conference. The cloture vote was 67-28.


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Eleven Republicans voted to advance the treaty, a sign that Democrats will have more than enough votes for final ratification. It will need the support of two-thirds of lawmakers present in the chamber to pass.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSatanists balk at Cruz comparison Cory Booker is Clinton secret weapon Overnight Energy: Dems block energy spending bill for second day MORE (D-Nev.) said Tuesday morning a final ratification vote could come on Wednesday.

“I’ve had conversations with Sen. Kerry and Sen. Kyl, and I think there is a way we can complete this some time tomorrow,” Reid said, referring to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John KerryJohn KerryInterior chief: ‘We will have climate refugees’ "Lebanizing" Syria Why Obama's 'cold peace' with Iran will turn hot MORE (D-Mass.) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the lead GOP critic of the treaty.

The Senate will next vote on several amendments to the treaty’s resolution for ratification, the vehicle for ratifying the treaty. Amendments would convey the sense of the Senate on the issue but would not change the substance of the treaty or its preamble.

“Today’s bipartisan vote clears a significant hurdle in the Senate. We are on the brink of writing the next chapter in the 40-year history of wrestling with the threat of nuclear weapons," Kerry said in a statement after the vote. "We’ve spent months building toward this moment. In these final hours of debate, Sen. [Richard] Lugar and I are joined by so many senators who understand the significance of this moment. Together, we will do our very best to convince those who remain undecided that ratifying New START is the right step for our national security."

Kerry told reporters Tuesday afternoon he would prefer not to amend the resolution for ratification but could accept a few Republican amendments.
 
“I don’t think it needs amending at this point but there are a couple of things we’re prepared to accept, with a few changes, and we’re working on them,” Kerry said.
 
Kerry said he is working with Sens. John McCainJohn McCainExperts warn weapons gap is shrinking between US, Russia and China McCain delivers his own foreign policy speech Republicans who vow to never back Trump MORE (R-Ariz.) and Bob CorkerBob CorkerTrump seeks approval from foreign policy experts, but hits snags The Trail 2016: The establishment comes around GOP warms to Trump MORE (R-Tenn.) on amendments related to the development of a U.S. missile defense system.

On Tuesday, Kerry released a letter from Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pledging the full support of military leaders for the treaty. 



Mullen’s argument resonated with GOP senators who voted to advance it.

“Support for the treaty should not be viewed through the lens of being liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, but rather what is in the best interests of our national security,” Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said shortly before the vote.

Before Tuesday's vote, at least 11 Republicans signaled they would support final ratification.

The treaty between the U.S. and Russia would limit each side to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine ballistic missiles and heavy bombers. 



It would also limit each nation to 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBMs, submarine ballistic missiles and bombers equipped for nuclear armament. Each side could not deploy more than 700 ICBMs, submarine launchers and heavy bombers, less than the number of strategic nuclear vehicles allowed under the old START Treaty. 



The U.S. has been unable to inspect Russia’s nuclear arsenal since the original START treaty expired in December of last year. 


New START would allow on-site inspections, data exchanges and require regular notifications related to strategic offensive arms.  


The treaty would be effective for 10 years. 
 


President Obama sent letters to Sens. Thad CochranThad CochranFirst US Zika death reported in Puerto Rico Overnight Healthcare: Medicare fight looms on Capitol Hill Senate GOP hardening stance against emergency funding for Zika MORE (R-Miss.) and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderDemocrats block energy spending bill over Iran amendment Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico pressure builds; Big tariff vote Wednesday Senate votes to increase wind energy funding MORE (R-Tenn.) pledging his commitment to modernizing the nation’s nuclear arsenal in a bid to secure their support. 
 


“I recognize that nuclear modernization requires investment for the long-term, in addition to this one-year budget increase,” Obama wrote. “That is my commitment to the Congress — that my administration will purse these programs and capabilities for as long as I am president.”


Cochran and Alexander announced before the vote to end debate on the treaty that they would support ratification. 


Obama sent a letter to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Finance: House rejects financial adviser rule; Obama rebukes Sanders on big banks Senators roll out changes to criminal justice bill Sanders is most popular senator, according to constituent poll MORE (Ky.) over the weekend to assure Republicans that his administration is committed to developing missile defense systems.
 
Lugar (R-Ind.), Voinovich, Cochran and Alexander voted to end a filibuster of the treaty. GOP Sens. Robert Bennett (Utah), Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsLarry Wilmore, Sting party in DC ahead of WHCD GOP women push Trump on VP pick Sanders is most popular senator, according to constituent poll MORE (Maine), Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonSenate approves new Veterans Affairs watchdog Overnight Regulation: Republicans move to block financial adviser rule Senate Republicans move to block financial adviser rule MORE (Ga.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiThe Hill's 12:30 Report Bishop eyes new Puerto Rico bill after recess Week ahead: Senate looks to wrap up energy, water spending bill MORE (Alaska), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Corker also voted in favor.
 
Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.), another Republican who said he was leaning in favor the treaty, missed the vote, as did Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Ron WydenRon WydenFeds list schools that sought exemption from discrimination statute IRS: Annual unpaid tax liability was 8B Overnight Cybersecurity: Fight over feds' hacking powers moves to Congress MORE (D-Ore.).
 
Several Republicans, including Kyl and McCain, have criticized the preamble of the treaty, which links restrictions on strategic nuclear to missile defense systems. They worry the language could hinder the development of a defensive anti-ballistic missile shield.

This story was updated at 4:30 p.m.