The Cable

“New START” dead on arrival?

As the Obama administration finishes up negotiations over the lynchpin of its strategy of hitting the "reset button" on U.S. relations with Russia, the "New START" nuclear arms reduction treaty, the big lingering question on everyone's mind is: Will the Senate actually be able to ratify the deal?

Senior Democratic senators, who strongly support the new treaty, aren't so sure.

"It's going to be hard to get it ratified," said Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-MI, in a Tuesday interview with The Cable. Levin said he hadn't done a vote count, but wasn't confident the treaty will get the 67 votes needed to make it the law of the land.

"I'm not even sure we'll get a referral from the Foreign Relations Committee," Levin added, promising to at least hold hearings on the issue.

Meanwhile, senior Senators such as Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ, Senate Armed Services ranking Republican John McCain, R-AZ, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, have been sending the administration public warnings about what they don't want to see in the agreement and have been using private methods to pressure the administration on the issue as well.

Kyl told The Cable in a brief interview Tuesday that he will not announce his stance until the final text surfaces, but there were some red lines that if crossed would trigger his opposition, which would be problematic.

 "Unless it is accompanied by a [nuclear] modernization program that satisfies the requirements of the secretary of defense, it would be very difficult for the Senate to support the new START treaty," he said.

As Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher has said, the administration's new budget request does include a plan for what it calls "stockpile modernization," but Kyl complained that it "hasn't been fleshed out."

Administration officials tell The Cable they believe leading GOP voices like Kyl haven't yet decided whether to support ratification and are setting themselves up to be able to justify their decision either way when the time comes.

Kyl also stood by the letter that he, McCain, and Lieberman sent to National Security Advisor Jim Jones last week opposing any unilateral statement by Russia declaring its right to object to U.S. missile defenses by withdrawing from the treaty.

"I think it would be very damaging," Kyl said. "If there were a provision that the Russians would interpret as enabling them to unilaterally abandon the treaty if they didn't like what we were doing on missile defense, I think that would be very troubling to me and my colleagues in the Senate."

Levin countered that the prospect of Russia declaring its right to withdraw was no justification for standing in the way of the agreement.

"They can withdraw unilaterally for any reason, so I don't know that that's a good reason to object," Levin said, adding, "The United States withdrew unilaterally from the ABM treaty when we decided it was in our interest, right?"

The Cable

Senate set to extend Patriot Act without new restrictions

The Senate is preparing to bring up and pass a short-term extension of some key provisions of the Patriot Act, setting aside changes to the law that were carefully negotiated by a Senate committee last fall.

The Judiciary Committee approved a bill last October that would extend key provisions of the controversial law but add new restrictions to the use of so-called national security letters, a procedure used by the FBI to demand records from U.S. businesses. But according to leading senators, those new restrictions might have to wait for another year.

Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, explained the move in an exclusive interview with The Cable.  She said it would be a one-year straight extension of the three Patriot Act provisions set to expire at the end of the month.

"I obviously preferred the Judiciary [Committee's] version, it surprises me that Republicans won't let it pass ... We made a number of changes to accommodate them," she said. "The committee version is much better, it's much more precise," she said, adding that she was ultimately OK with just extending the old version.

Senate Judiciary Committee ranking Republican Jeff Sessions, R-AL, confirmed to The Cable that the current thinking was to extend the Patriot Act provisions in their current form, ignoring the changes his own committee approved.

"The Patriot Act has worked and the last thing we should do is weaken it. So I think it's a good development that we are going to continue it as is," said Sessions. "That's the right direction."

Here's the scope of the three provisions that will be extended, according to Congressional Quarterly:

One of the expiring provisions allows the government to seek orders from a special federal court for "any tangible thing" that it says is related to a terrorism investigation. Another allows the government to seek court orders for roving wiretaps on terrorism suspects who shift their modes of communication. The third provision allows the government to apply to the special court for surveillance orders involving suspected "lone wolf" terrorists who do not necessarily have ties to a larger organization."

The extension is expected to come up with a package of other extensions today in the Senate to be passed by unanimous consent. One aide said the extension could be for 30 days and then later this week, the Senate could begin consideration of a longer-term extension that could be for the rest of the year, but no final decisions have been made.

If Senate leaders ultimately want to push for the Judiciary Committee's version, they will face stiff resistance that could complicate passage.

Senate Intelligence Committee ranking Republican Kit Bond, D-MO, when asked by The Cable if the extension would be the Judiciary committee's version, said, "It better not be!"

UPDATE: The extension did not come up on Tuesday but is expected to come up Wednesday. The one-year extension would still have to pass the House, so a one week extension is expected to cover until then, aides said.