Republicans have the votes to sink sea treaty

Senate Republicans say they have locked in enough votes to block the controversial Law of the Sea Treaty championed by the White House.

Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) joined the list of treaty opponents on Monday, creating the one-third majority that would be needed to prevent ratification of the global maritime pact. 

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"We are simply not persuaded that decisions … empowered by this treaty will be more favorable to U.S. interests than bilateral negotiations, voluntary arbitration and other traditional means of resolving maritime issues," Portman and Ayotte wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). 

"The treaty's litigation exposure and impositions on U.S. sovereignty outweigh its potential benefits. For that reason, we cannot support the Law of the Sea treaty," wrote Portman and Ayotte, both considered contenders to be presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate in November.

Isakson separately added his name to a letter signed by 31 other Senate Republicans vowing opposition to the treaty. 

Opponents had been working hard to reach the 34-vote threshold needed to scuttle Senate approval of the treaty, and targeted eight senators, including Ayotte, to reach the magic number. 

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is leading the charge for ratification, blamed election-year politics for the growing opposition and said the fight is far from over. 

"Sen. Kerry has been here long enough to know that vote counts and letters are just a snapshot of where our politics are in this instant, and it's not news to anyone that right now we're in the middle of a white-hot political campaign season where ideology is running in overdrive," Kerry spokeswoman Jodi Seth said in a statement to The Hill.

Seth suggested the 34 GOP “no” votes might not be there come December.

"No letter or whip count changes the fact that rock-ribbed Republican businesses and the military and every living Republican secretary of State say that this needs to happen," Seth said. "That's why it's a matter of when, not if, for the Law of the Sea [ratification]."

Kerry announced earlier this year that the committee would not hold a ratification vote until after the presidential elections in November. The delay, according to Seth, was to allow senators "to evaluate the treaty on the facts and the merits away from the politics of the moment."

Ratification of the treaty, which would create de facto rules for the nation’s oceans, has become a top priority for the Obama administration and business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and others say the pact is key to maintaining peace and order in global hotspots such as the Asia-Pacific region, while business groups argue it will help U.S. oil and gas companies explore and drill in the deep seas.

But opponents argue the treaty does nothing to guarantee regional security and fear an erosion of national sovereignty. They claim ratification would effectively tie the hands of the U.S. Navy to conduct operations worldwide, because those missions would have to be reviewed and approved by treaty members.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified in June that relinquishing that kind of authority to an international body "based on rhetoric about common heritage of mankind" was simply unacceptable. 

Aside from national-security priorities, treaty ratification would hand over power to the International Seabed Authority to distribute a portion of oil and gas royalties from offshore operations.

— This story was last updated at 6:54 p.m.