New START Approval Expected Today


After months of wrangling on Capitol Hill, the Senate today is expected to deliver President Obama a decisive political win and approve the New START arms-reduction treaty with Russia.

Treaty supporters are now confident they have more than the 67 votes required for approval despite lingering concerns among some Republicans that the accord could hamstring missile defense efforts or otherwise hurt the United States' strategic posture.

Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., who has shepherded the treaty through the Senate this year, said Tuesday he believes the vote will take place by early this afternoon, at the latest.

With the clock ticking down on the lame-duck session, Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and other top administration officials stepped up their lobbying efforts in the last several days to push senators to approve New START, which the administration considers a top legislative priority for this year.

Their efforts, which included phone calls and closed-door meetings on Capitol Hill, seem to have paid off, as the list of Republican senators backing ratification of the treaty continued to grow early this week.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 67-28 to end the debate on the treaty. That vote was considered a test run that would gauge determine whether New START had the requisite two-thirds majority for approval.

After the vote, Kerry expressed confidence that the final vote will yield even more supporters. Sens. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H. -- who all support the treaty -- did not vote on Tuesday.

Kerry also stressed the difficulty of getting at least 67 senators in the current political climate to agree on anything.

"In today's Washington, today's Senate, 70 votes is yesterday's 95," he said. "I feel pretty good."

All 58 members of the Democratic caucus are expected to vote for approval of the treaty, which means the White House needs at least nine GOP votes.

Republicans who have pledged support so far include: Foreign Relations ranking member Richard Lugar of Indiana, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, George Voinovich of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Robert Bennett of Utah, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, and Gregg.

Several other senators -- including Armed Services ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill. -- are on the fence. But there are still many Republicans who strongly oppose approving the treaty during the lame-duck without amendments to more directly address their concerns.

During a press conference Tuesday morning with six other GOP opponents of the treaty, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., complained that Democrats had scheduled the START debate too close to the time the Senate adjourns, when "very few members are paying much attention."

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Megan Scully is a staff writer (defense and national security) for National Journal.

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