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 PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHouse passes bill to establish DHS cyber 'first responder' teams House passes bill to establish DHS cyber 'first responder' teams Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump MORE (R-Ohio), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteSinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race New Hampshire senator to ask 2020 Dems to back repeal of state residency law Schultz recruiting GOP insiders ahead of possible 2020 bid MORE (R-N.H.) and Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonSenate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump GOP senators work to get Trump on board with new disaster aid package Senators say they've reached deal on Puerto Rico aid MORE (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 ReidHarry Mason ReidImpeachment will reelect Trump Impeachment will reelect Trump Biden faces first crisis as front-runner MORE (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 KerryJohn Forbes Kerry'Landslide' for Biden? A look at 40 years of inaccurate presidential polls Trump campaign considering making a play for blue state Oregon: report Trump campaign considering making a play for blue state Oregon: report MORE (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.