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.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.