The Cable

Kerry and Biden: We are still going to push for New START this year

Senate Foreign Affairs Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), who has taken the lead in the Senate on the New START treaty with Russia, said Tuesday afternoon that he still believed the treaty can be ratified this year during Congress's lame duck session, despite an earlier statement to the contrary by the key GOP senator dealing with the treaty, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ).

"I think this is a treaty dealing with the security of our country and if we don't have time to deal with the security of our country, something is really wrong with the Senate," Kerry told reporters at the Capitol building Tuesday afternoon. "I think we have to deal with this."

Responding directly to Kyl's statement on Tuesday that doubted there would be enough time to consider New START in the lame duck session, Kerry said that doesn't mean Kyl won't eventually agree to a vote this year. He said Kyl had provided the administration with a list of items and the administration was working on that list now.

"We're not stopping because we're negotiating. We're planning to go forward," said Kerry. When asked if he was confident the vote could happen in December, as he predicted last week, he said, "I'm not going to qualify what my feelings are about where we are heading."

On Tuesday afternoon, Vice President Joseph Biden issued a statement also pledging to move forward with New START this year.

"Failure to pass the New START Treaty this year would endanger our national security," Biden stated. "Given new START's bipartisan support and enormous importance to our national security, the time to act is now and we will continue to seek its approval by the Senate before the end of the year."

Biden's statement confirmed that the administration plans to request an additional $4.1 billion for modernization over the next five years, as per Kyl's request. That's on top of the $80 billion the administration has pledged for the modernization over the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, the chorus of senators on both sides of the aisle calling for the vote to be delayed until next year is increasing. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) told The Cable he would like to see the vote put off to make time for domestic items during the lame duck session.

In an exclusive interview with The Cable Tuesday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who voted for the treaty in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, laid out a long list of reasons why the treaty shouldn't be taken up during the lame duck session.

"We're still awaiting the second five-year portion of the [modernization] report. I just don't think it's practical, just looking at the calendar. I think taking up a treaty like this during the lame duck session creates a lot of distrust. A lot of the new members coming in want the ability to weigh in," Corker said.

He said he believed the treaty could pass, with some modifications, but it should be next year. "My sense is, we'd be much better off to wait, and in the course of doing so we could potentially figure out a way to get to an overwhelming vote," Corker said.

Emerging from the weekly GOP caucus lunch, which was attended by some of the newly-elected GOP senators, Corker also said that the Republican victory in the recent midterm elections also factored into his call for a delay in ratifying the treaty.

"To me, trying to do something of this nature during the lame duck session is just not the appropriate way of doing it, especially when you've had such a change in the makeup of the body," he said. "It might have been different had everything remained generally the same. But when voters have spoken the way that they have, to take up this treaty on the floor... I just don't see it happening."

Kerry rejected the idea that the treaty should be delayed to allow the newly elected senators to weigh in.

"This treaty has been in this session. We've been working on it and the hearings have been held in this session. The questions were asked by this year's senators," Kerry said. "We could have had a vote in August and I purposefully delayed it at request of Republicans to give them more time to evaluate it. So we are where we are because they requested more time."

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

The Cable

Levin: We may have to separate DADT from defense bill

The measure to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military may have to be dropped from the defense authorization bill in order to get the bill passed this year, said Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI).

"I'm trying to get the bill through Congress. I'm the committee chairman for a 900 page bill. ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is two pages of 900 pages. My focus is different from the media focus. I'm just trying to get a bill passed," Levin told reporters at the Capitol building on Tuesday.

While no final decisions have been made, Levin said one option was to separate the language on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" from the rest of the bill, and then making two separate efforts to pass the both pieces of legislation.

"I'm trying to get both done. And if I can't get both done, I want to get one of them done," Levin said.

He said no decisions will be made until Congress receives the military's survey on the effect of repealing the ban, details of which were leaked to the Washington Post.  70 percent of troops responding to the survey said that the effects of repealing the ban would be "positive, mixed or nonexistent."

Levin said he asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to release the survey before the Dec. 1 scheduled release date, but hasn't heard back yet. He plans to hold hearings right after the survey is released and then figure out what to do next.

A long debate over the bill could mean that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) won't be able to allot precious floor time to the bill during the lame duck session of Congress.

"I don't know if this is one of the things [Reid] is trying to do. There are a lot of things he is trying to do [in the lame duck session]," Levin said.

If and when the repeal language is removed from the defense bill, that doesn't mean the legislation is good to go. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, still has concerns about how the bill deals with Iraq reconstruction funding and language dealing with abortions in the military.

But McCain told The Cable that if the Don't Ask, Don't Tell language was removed, the rest of the issue could be worked out on the Senate floor through the regular debate and amendment process. But the Don't Ask, Don't Tell language has to be gone for good.

"If we have a commitment from the House that it won't be put in by the House and sent back, we can do it [this year]," McCain said.

AFP/Getty Images