Democrats Need Five to Prevent START's End

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee resumes consideration of the new START treaty with Russia today, and proceedings have already hit a wrinkle. The Cable's Josh Rogin reports that Sen. James Risch (R-ID) claims that the intelligence community brought to his attention a "stunning" something or other that would seriously complicate efforts to ratify the treaty. What that something is Risch won't say.

The State Department, Senate Democrats, and the intelligence community themselves say there is nothing substantially new in the intel stream.  Sen. John Kerry, the committee chair, acknowledges that the senators were very recently briefed on something that was new but said that it would not and should not affect the debate.

Before the August recess, senators were briefed on a specially prepared National Intelligence Estimate about the national security impact of ratification and whether the Russian government intended to fulfill its commitments. The State Department also released a verification report suggesting that, by and large, Russia has lived up to most of its earlier arms control promises in recent years.

Democrats have at least two Republican votes banked for START: Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN), who authored the language that's currently up for debate, and Bob Corker (R-TN). Republican Sens. Johnny Isaakson of Georgia, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and John Barasso of Wyoming are maybe/probables. Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and James Inhofe (R-ID) are noes. Assuming all three committee Republicans who are maybes vote aye, that leaves the treaty five short of ratification on the floor. Somewhat scarily for Democrats, the final vote won't take place until after November, which is why a strong, bipartisan committee endorsement is important. ( If the vote is postponed until the next Congressional session, do the math: a "Sen." Angle would be a no, but a "Sen." Kirk would be a yes...as would a "Sen." Fiorina (probably) but not a "Sen" Rubio. "Sen." Toomey and "Sen." Johnson would probably be noes.)



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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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