Democrats Confident New START Will Pass

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Top Senate Democrats expressed confidence Sunday that the new START arms control treaty with Russia will pass the upper chamber during the remaining days of the lame duck session, but two leading and previously-uncommitted Republicans stated their intention to vote against ratification. Senate consideration of the treaty is scheduled to resume this afternoon, and ratification will require 67 votes.

"I believe it will pass, and I believe there will be a vote," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry said on ABC's This Week. Sen. Richard Lugar, the committee's ranking Republican, said that "several Republicans" would support the treaty, which would reduce both nations' strategic nuclear warheads. Also appearing on ABC, Lugar said, "I join the chairman in believing that there are the votes there. The problem is really getting to that final vote."  Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber's second-highest ranking Democrat, was optimistic that his party can muster 67 votes. "I think we do" have the votes, Durbin told Fox News Sunday, noting that 66 members voted to hold the ongoing debate about the treaty, now in its fifth day. "I think we need to move this to a vote."

Some Republicans, including Arizona Sens. John McCain and John Kyl, are worried that language in the preamble of the treaty would impair the ability of the United States to erect a missile defense shield. While Russia has pressed for a "binding statement" that would prevent the U.S. from erecting a missile defense, there is "nothing" in the treaty that would impose such a restriction, Kerry insisted. He emphasized that the general in charge of the nation's Missile Defense Agency has testified categorically that "there is no restraint, zero, none, no restraint whatsoever on our missile defense capacity."

That wasn't enough to satisfy some Republicans.  Speaking on CNN's State of the Union, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not vote for ratification, a position he hadn't previously announced. "I've decided I cannot support the treaty. I think the verification provisions are inadequate. And I do worry about the missile defense implications of it," McConnell said. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also announced his opposition to the bill over missile defense issues, saying on CBS's Face the Nation that he doesn't expect START to pass during the lame duck. "Maybe next year we can straighten things out," Graham said.
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David Hatch is a reporter and contributing editor (media, internet, and telecom) for National Journal.

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