White House says it has the 67 votes needed to ratify arms-control treaty

The White House expressed confidence Wednesday in a lame-duck Senate vote on the START arms-control treaty between the U.S. and Russia, hours after the treaty’s top proponents appeared in the Senate to press their case.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl’s (Ariz.) opposition won’t be enough to derail the treaty, which needs 67 Senate votes to be ratified.

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“I think the treaty will come up and I think the treaty will be voted on and I think we’ll have the votes to pass it,” Gibbs said, adding that President Obama “will push forward on having the Senate ratify the START Treaty before the end of the year.”

Gibbs’s comment followed Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris to host virtual Hollywood campaign event co-chaired by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling Trump plans to accept Republican nomination from White House lawn US seizes four vessels loaded with Iranian fuel MORE’s assertion on Tuesday that a failure to ratify the new nuclear arms-reduction treaty “endangers our national security” because it means the U.S. would not have nuclear inspectors in Russia.

Earlier Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal Gloria Steinem: Selection of Kamala Harris recognizes that 'black women ... are the heart and soul of the Democratic Party' MORE pointedly declared to Senate reporters that the treaty cannot be postponed. Clinton came to the chamber where she served from 2001 to 2009 for a breakfast meeting on the treaty with Senate Democratic leaders and Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Dick Lugar (Ind.).

Hopes for a December vote were thrown in doubt Tuesday after Kyl urged that the treaty vote be delayed until January, when Republicans will hold six more Senate seats. Mindful that the math will be more difficult in the next Congress, Clinton, Lugar and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance Ocasio-Cortez's 2nd grade teacher tells her 'you've got this' ahead of DNC speech Ron Johnson subpoenas documents from FBI director as part of Russia origins probe MORE (D-Mass.) all argued that the treaty is overdue for floor action.

“This treaty is ready to be voted on by the United States Senate,” Clinton said, noting that 18 committee hearings have been held and the Foreign Relations panel already passed the treaty on a 14-4 bipartisan vote.

“Some have said we should hit the ‘pause’ button, that it is too difficult to do this treaty in a lame-duck session. I strongly disagree. ... We can and we must go forward now with the new START Treaty during the lame-duck session.”

In his Tuesday statement, Kyl said he told Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidPentagon forming task force to investigate military UFO sightings Kamala Harris makes history — as a Westerner McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill MORE (D-Nev.) that a vote on the treaty should not be held before the new Congress, “given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization” of the nuclear weapons complex.

Kyl is also opposing the treaty because he says he is concerned about maintaining a modern, working nuclear stockpile. But Gibbs said the White House “shares the concerns about modernizing the program,” and added that Obama is willing to meet with Kyl if necessary.

For their part, Kerry, Clinton and Lugar pointed out that Obama has already pledged to seek more funds for modernization. In response to Kyl’s claim that the treaty is being “rushed,” Kerry noted that he already delayed the treaty several times earlier this year at the request of Republicans.

“We have reached out for months,” he said.

Kerry also insisted the current sitting senators have responsibility for the treaty’s ratification, rather than the incoming Congress, because the treaty has been reviewed and examined by the current Senate.

Kerry and Kyl stayed in fairly close contact throughout Wednesday, despite the sharp words. They were seen talking closely during a long subway ride into the Senate for votes, and Kerry even left a committee meeting he was leading to meet with Kyl and talk more.

Lugar, a 33-year senator and a well-respected Republican voice on foreign affairs who is key to securing GOP support, spoke in an uncharacteristically raised voice to argue that thousands of nuclear missiles are still aimed at American cities.

“This treaty must be ratified, and it must be ratified in this session of Congress,” Lugar said. “This is very serious. We are at a point where we are unlikely to have either the treaty or modernization unless we get real.”

It is unclear how many GOP votes Kyl can control. Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans Cheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama MORE of Tennessee and Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonNew poll shows tight presidential race in Georgia Matt Lieberman faces calls to drop out of Georgia Senate race over 'racist and discriminatory' tropes in 2018 book Sabato's Crystal Ball shifts Iowa Senate race to 'toss-up,' Georgia toward GOP MORE of Georgia supported the treaty during committee, and it is likely that Lugar could persuade at least a few others to cross the aisle.

Gibbs said ratifying the treaty is the first test of whether Democrats and Republicans can achieve bipartisanship, noting that treaties like START have traditionally passed with wide bipartisan support.

“I think this is going to be a test of the degree to which both sides can work together,” Gibbs said.