U.S.-Russia Nuke Treaty Could Pass Tomorrow

Democrats need to squeak out a two-thirds majority

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In a vote this afternoon on the New START nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia, the Senate voted 66 to 32 to proceed to formal debate. Nine of the aye votes were from Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid schedule the final vote for tomorrow morning, meaning that the treaty, which President Obama signed this spring in one of the top foreign policy achievements of his administrations, could soon face ratification or defeat.

For the Senate to ratify a treaty, a two-thirds majority is required. If every member of the Senate votes, that means it takes 67 votes to ratify, so today's 66 supporters would not be enough. However, if the same two Senators who abstained today also do not vote tomorrow, 66 votes would be enough to ratify. Will it go through? Or will Republicans succeed in blocking the arms treaty?

Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana has taken the Senate floor to deliver a 45-minute speech urging his colleagues to pass the New Start treaty. Close followers of Congress know that he rarely takes the floor for anything. ... It has been a joy to watch Lugar go up against Jon Kyl of Arizona over this treaty. Lugar is the respected voice of the GOP in the Senate on foreign policy. Kyl is one of the most effective back-room operators in the chamber since Lyndon Johnson. Both were among the ten best Senators we identified in 2006, and their battle over this treaty is one for the books.
  • 'DeMint Caves on Bill-Reading Stunt'  Salon's Alex Pareene writes that Republican Senator Jim DeMint will not go through with his threat to have a staffer read the entire treaty out loud, thus delaying a vote by hours or days. "Senator Jim DeMint wanted to do that thing where one Senator can demand that bills be read aloud in their entirety. DeMint was going to give the New START Treaty and the omnibus spending bill the bedtime story treatment, until, apparently, [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell made him back down."
  • Sen. Bayh Could Secure Ratification  Conservative blogger PoliPundit notes that "Evan Bayh was absent during the vote; his vote will make it 67, enough to ratify the treaty." Bayh is a conservative Democrat from Indiana.
  • Two Republican 'No' Votes Could Turn to 'Yes'  The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen adds that "both Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) voted for the treaty in committee, so presumably they approve of it on a substantive level. They balked on the motion to proceed, but when it comes to a final vote, if either one of them supports ratification, that will give proponents 67 votes. The Democratic leadership appears optimistic. Stay tuned."
I've seen reporting, before this announcement, suggesting that the decision of these senators to bail on the treaty meant that the treaty is dead. It's not quite clear yet. Asked point-blank whether he had the votes to stop the treaty, Kyl only said that the people assembled with him "want to vote for the treaty" but can't, which is different than saying he has 34 votes to stop it.
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