The Cable

Lugar rebukes own party for avoiding New START debate, wants to force vote now

In a stunning rebuke to members of his own caucus, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) said on Wednesday that the GOP is intentionally trying to put off a vote on the New START treaty with Russia, and avoiding a serious discussion about the treaty within the caucus.

"At the moment, the Republican caucus is tied up in a situation where people don't want to make choices," Lugar told reporters in the hallway of the Capitol building Wednesday. "No one wants to be counted. No one wants to talk about it."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a big show on Wednesday morning of doubling down on the administration's drive for a vote to ratify the treaty during the lame duck session of Congress. Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) expressed confidence that a deal with Republicans and their leader on New START, Jon Kyl (R-AZ), was close at hand.

But according to Lugar, the Republican leadership is preventing a debate on the treaty for the rest of the year because they don't want to force their rank-and-file members to take a position on the agreement.

Kerry and Kyl continued to meet on Wednesday, ostensibly to work out a deal based on the $84 billion the administration is promising Kyl for nuclear modernization in exchange for his support of the treaty. Kyl told The Cable that negotiations were going forward "in good faith," but Lugar suggested that's all a smoke screen and that the Republican leadership is committed to avoiding completion of the treaty for the foreseeable future.

"Every senator has an obligation in the national security interest to take a stand, to do his or her duty. Maybe people would prefer not to do his or her duty right now," he said. "Sometimes when you prefer not to vote, you attempt to find reasons not to vote."

Lugar argued that the intransigence within the Republican caucus is a result of the leadership's unwillingness to put current GOP senators in the crosshairs of the debate before the political terrain shifts in the Republicans' favor when the new Congress is sworn in.

"If you're a Republican, you anticipate that the lay of the land is going to be much more favorable in January and therefore would say, ‘If we do not have to make tough choices now, why make tough choices?'" Lugar explained.

Lugar wants the Democratic Senate leadership to cut off negotiations immediately and force a vote on New START now, to compel senators to get off the fence and to end the endless stalling coming from his own side of the aisle.

"I'm advising that the treaty should come on the floor so people will have to vote aye or nay [even if there's no deal]," he said. "I think when it finally comes down to it, we have sufficient number or senators who do have a sense of our national security. This is the time, this is the priority. Do it."

Delaying until next year is a worst case scenario that could delay the treaty's ratification for months or even years as new senators request additional time to study the issue, and the committee process begins all over again, he said.

"Endless hearings, markup, back to trying to get some time on the floor... It will be some time before the treaty is ever heard from again," Lugar said.

Lugar also warned that the failure to ratify the treaty could have drastic consequences for other facets of U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation -- especially the Nunn-Lugar effort to secure loose nuclear materials throughout the former Soviet Union.

If START fails, the cooperation between the United States and Russia on securing loose nukes could be imperiled, representing an even bigger risk for national security, Lugar said.

"There are still thousands of missiles out there. You better get that through your heads," he said, directing his comments to members of his own party.

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The Cable

Clinton, Kerry, and Lugar: We need to do New START this year

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, standing alongside Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), dug in Wednesday morning on the administration's call for the New START treaty with Russia to be ratified this year.

Clinton spoke to the press after attending an early morning meeting in the Capitol building that included Kerry, Lugar, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ), Senate Appropriations Committee ranking Republican Thad Cochran (R-MS), Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee ranking Republican Judd Gregg (R-NH), and others.

The key GOP vote on New START, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), did not attend. The meeting was meant to gather bipartisan support for the increased appropriations the administration plans to request for nuclear modernization -- some $4.1 billion for fiscal 2012, on top of the $80 billion the administration has promised for modernization over the next 10 years.

Clinton spoke about the administration's effort to get Congress to agree to the funding in advance, in order to satisfy Kyl. "We will continue to intensify those discussions in the coming days, and we're confident that there well may be a bipartisan consensus emerging on the need for such funding," she said.

She also argued that the Senate's action this year on New START would be an indicator of how the GOP intends to work with the administration during the next Congressional session.

"This is exactly what the American people expect us to do, to come together and do what is necessary to protect our country. We can and we must go forward now on the New START treaty during the lame duck session," Clinton said.

The idea is to assure Kyl that the modernization money is guaranteed, even though the fiscal 2012 budget request won't be released until February. That was one of the demands Kyl made in exchange for his support, which could bring along a significant portion of the GOP caucus.

Administration officials traveled all the way to Arizona late last week to present the broad outlines of the administration's latest offer to Kyl personally. But Tuesday morning, Kyl issued a statement that said he did not believe there was enough time in the lame duck session of Congress to debate and vote on the treaty. Aides told The Cable that Kyl was still waiting to see details of the offer in writing, along with an updated report on nuclear modernization.

The Tuesday morning statement came as a shock to the administration, which had thought a deal with Kyl was imminent. Administration sources say its timing showed a potential lack of good faith by Kyl. The statement came just days after the trip to Arizona and exactly one day before Kyl was set to meet with Kerry, Clinton, Vice President Joseph Biden, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the White House.

Our Congressional sources said that meeting, scheduled for today, has now been cancelled. But Kerry met Kyl later on Wednesday morning, and told The Cable he is now meeting regularly with Kyl on the issue. Kyl told The Cable Wednesday that negotiations are ongoing.

Overall, the message from Clinton on Wednesday was that the treaty must be done this year, that it represents a risk to national security not to have a treaty in place, and that the administration would continue working with senators to get a vote before the year's end.

Despite Kyl's latest statement, which the administration viewed as extremely unhelpful, Kerry told The Cable Tuesday that he "takes Kyl at his word that he is negotiating in good faith."

Regardless, statements by other senators Tuesday that consideration of the treaty should be delayed until next year also damaged the administration's push for a vote. Senators who are now calling for delay include Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who voted for the treaty in committee, and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE).

Kerry's message Wednesday was that he believes there are no disagreements on substance between Democrats and Republicans on New START, that he would do whatever was necessary to address senators' concerns, and that since this Congress has done the work on New START, it's this Congress that should vote on it.

"We have reached out for months," Kerry said Wednesday. "As of today, the last questions posed by some senators have been answered."

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