New START Likely to Be Ratified as Opposition Crumbles

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 21 2010 11:33 AM

New START Likely to Be Ratified as Opposition Crumbles

Key Republican opponents of the new START treaty were somber and somewhat bitter in a mid-morning press conference today. Before John Kyl and seven more Republican "nos" took the stage, Tennessee's Lamar Alexander and Georgia's Johnny Isakson announced that they would support the treaty. Vote counters in the press corps determined that this meant the treaty would have enough votes to survive a vote today and a final vote, probably, tomorrow. So the senators' focus was not on vote-counting. It was on the injustice of this coming to a vote at all. When asked whether he had the votes to delay the treaty and kick it into 2011, Kyl did not say yes.

"I honestly don't know what my colleagues are going to do," Kyl said. Subtext: The votes aren't there and the momentum is against opponents.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Lindsey Graham, who had been inclined to support the treaty, but said it was impossible to get past the fact that "we have never approved a treaty in a lame duck session." It was unfair to new senators. "Every one of them signed a letter and said we want to be part of this debate. And here we are! The week of Christmas!"

Also, the process was unfair to Kyl. "Let it be said that you did your best to make this treaty better," said Graham. "You deserved better." It was basically a political eulogy for Kyl's strategy, and the GOP whip stood to the side clasping his hands as more senators tried to avoid admitting that the fight was basically over.

"The fact that we're doing this under the cover of Christmas as our backstop, with a lame duck Congress that has just been thrown out, is an outrage," said Sen. Jim DeMint, who unlike his senior senator had never supported START. "We are just outraged out. That's something I heard somebody say last week."

Alabama's Jeff Sessions, who was not seen as a gettable vote for the treaty, circled back to the GOP's arguments about missile defense and the weakness of President Obama. "When you have a fundamental philosophy that we should go to zero nuclear weapons in the world," said Sessions, "you are not going to be effective in negotiations." John Thune, the only Republican at the presser who's seen as a possible 2012 presidential candidate, took the same tack. START was getting a vote now, he said, because the administration wanted a win.

Orrin Hatch's appearance might have been the most interesting. "I have to withdraw my support for something I would really like to support," he said. But Hatch, who could face a primary challenge in 2012, thought it was unfair to let departing or defeated members vote on the treaty. "Denying the bipartisan group of new senators a vote on this treaty," said Hatch, " is, in my opinion, morally wrong." One of those senators voting aye but being replaced by a START critic is, of course, Hatch's colleague Bob Bennett.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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