Ten of the new incoming Republican senators Thursday are planning to demand they get a say on the New START treaty, adding ten new voices to the growing cacophony pushing for a delay in consideration of the treaty until next year.
"On Election Day we were elected to represent the constituents of our respective states in the Senate," the incoming Republicans wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), in a letter (PDF) obtained by The Cable. "Out of respect for our states' voters, we believe it would be improper for the Senate to consider the New START Treaty or any other treaty in a lame duck session prior to January 3, 2011."
The letter was organized by Senator elect Roy Blunt (R-MO) and was signed by both moderate and conservative incoming senators such as Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Rand Paul (R-KY).
The letter places yet another obstacle in the way of the Obama administration's intensive drive to hold a debate and ratification vote for the treaty this year. President Obama himself is meeting Thursday with top members of his cabinet and key senators, not including GOP treaty leader Jon Kyl, R-AZ, to devise a strategy to figure out how to take up the treaty now.
Intensive backroom negotiations between Kyl and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) yesterday still did not convince Kyl to back away from his Tuesday statement that there's just not enough time during the lame duck session of Congress to consider the treaty. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday doubled down on her call for swift consideration of the treaty as a matter of urgent national security, but GOP senators maintain they still haven't received the details of Obama's $84 billion pledge for nuclear modernization and the updated report on modernization that accompanies it.
But all that could be moot if the new GOP argument is to be that the newly elected Senators-to-be have a right to be a part of the process. That's what Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who actually voted for the treaty in committee, told The Cable on Wednesday. And that's what those senators-elect are demanding now.
In the letter, the senators-elect already indicate that they have real concerns with the treaty and might not support ratification. First of all, the letter argues that the New START treaty "would dramatically reduce the U.S. nuclear deterrent in a strategic environment that is becoming ever more perilous." That's an assertion the administration would disagree with strongly.
Secondly, the senators-elect are demanding that the administration turn over the full negotiating record between the U.S. and Russia, which they call "a critically important component in putting the pact in full context." The administration has no intention of meeting that demand.
Overall, the letter shows that if the START treaty is delayed until next year, the path toward ratification in 2011 could be a really slow, long one.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN) told The Cable Wednesday that he believes Senate GOP leadership is simply trying to avoiding debating the treaty altogether, in order to protect members from having to take what they consider a tough vote.
Tea Party groups and the Heritage Action for American lobbying organization have been targeting GOP senators, including Kyl, warning them that a vote in favor of New START could be used against them in a primary challenge in 2012.
"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," Lugar said. "Sometimes when you prefer not to vote, you attempt to find reasons not to vote."
Read the full text of the letter after the break
November 18, 2010
Hon. Harry Reid
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
We write as newly elected members of the United States Senate regarding a matter we believe should properly be reserved for consideration until we are duly sworn in the 112th Congress: The so-called "New START" arms treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation.
On Election Day we were elected to represent the constituents of our respective states in the Senate. One of the most important tasks of the 112th Congress will be to carefully consider measures that protect the national security of the United States. And few matters will more directly impact our security than arms control agreements like New START that would dramatically reduce the U.S. nuclear deterrent in a strategic environment that is becoming ever more perilous.
Article II of the Constitution grants the Senate the exclusive responsibility of giving advice and consent to the President on treaties. Out of respect for our states' voters, we believe it would be improper for the Senate to consider the New START Treaty or any other treaty in a lame duck session prior to January 3, 2011. Indeed, no bilateral strategic arms reduction treaty with the Soviet Union or Russia has ever been ratified during a lame duck session.
Additionally we are hopeful to have the opportunity, along with the full Senate, to review the treaty's negotiating record, which is a critically important component in putting the pact in full context.
Proponents of this treaty, aware that today's Senate is likely to support the agreement in higher numbers without our participation, are urging the Senate to give its advice and consent in the coming weeks. We call on you to defer action on this arms control treaty until the Senate reconvenes in the 112th Congress and we are able to participate fully and in an informed manner in its deliberations on New START.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.