The Cable

New START headed toward ratification as GOP support grows

More and more Republican senators came out in support for New START Monday afternoon, as the treaty moved closer to ratification after months of negotiations and days of debate.

"I believe we have the votes to ratify this treaty," said Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), after emerging from a two and a half hour closed session, during which senators discussed both unclassified and classified issues related to New START.

Of course, Kerry has been predicting that New START will be ratified for weeks. But multiple GOP senators emerged from the meeting echoing Kerry's confidence and some even took the opportunity to announce their support for the treaty.

"I've done my due diligence and I'm going to be voting for cloture and supporting the New START treaty," said Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA). "I believe it's something that's important for our country and I believe it's a good move forward to deal with our national security issues."

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) wouldn't go quite that far, but said he was at the same place he was when he voted for the treaty during committee consideration on Sept. 16. He said it would take some new problem to keep him from voting yes.

"The T's are being crossed and the I's are being dotted. Something could change but I don't know what that would be," Corker said. "We all talk about listening to our military leaders... if you go from A to Z there's a lot of support for this treaty and I don't think they would support it if they didn't think it was in the best interests of our country.:

Two more GOP senators also outwardly expressed their support for New START Monday, The Hill reported. "I'm leaning toward supporting the treaty but I want to makes sure our side gets a fair hearing," Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) said. Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) said, "I support it."

In addition to those four, Sens. Richard Lugar (R-ID), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Susan Collins (R-ME) also have pledged their support. That makes 7 GOP yes votes; treaty supporters will need 9 Republican senators to reach the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the treaty. The candidates for those two votes include Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bob Bennett (R-UT), Johnny Isaakson (R-GA), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ).

Meanwhile, senior administration officials have been working the phones in support of the treaty. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden have both made calls to several GOP senators over the last few days on the issue.

There will be a vote on closing debate Tuesday, which will need and likely get 60 votes to pass. After that, the final vote could come Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. The Senate continued to work on two amendments -- known as "treaty killers," as they would have required re-negotiation of the treaty with the Russians -- brought by Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK) and John Thune (R-SD). Both failed 33-64, and another amendment to the treaty on tactical nuclear weapons brought by Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL) failed 35-62.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that New START "cannot be opened up and become the subject of new negotiations."

Meanwhile, the behind-the-scenes action Monday had turned to amendments to the "Resolution of Ratification," which can be amended without sending the treaty back into negotiations with the Russian government.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) filed one of these amendments (PDF) Monday, along with Kirk and Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Their amendment would codify a pledge to complete the current four-stage plan for developing a missile defense system, preserve the option of going back to the George W. Bush administration scheme for European missile defense sites, state that U.S. missile defense plans are not grounds for Russian withdrawal from the treaty, and pledge not to share any U.S. missile telemetry data with Russia.

Kirk has also filed an amendment to the McCain amendment (PDF), obtained by The Cable, that would expand the ban on telemetry data to include all the other kinds of data, including tracking, targeting, and common operational picture data.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is said to be preparing another amendment to the ROR, and others were floating around Monday evening as well. Kerry and Kyl were working Monday evening to secure a time agreement to allow a couple more amendments to the treaty and then move to amendments on the ROR.

Kyl continued to lead the GOP side of the debate Wednesday evening and was seen chatting with Kerry after the meeting about the road ahead. Kerry said he was open to including Kyl's ideas for what can be done to the ROR, as everyone here at the Capitol starts to contemplate the end game and the treaty's eventual completion.

"We were just having a conversation with Senator Kyl. There may be some additional things we can incorporate [before the final vote]," Kerry said.

The Cable

New START votes expected Monday as GOP leaders decry process

Republican senators continue to suggest changes to New START to improve what they see as poorly negotiated aspects of the treaty with Russia, but their efforts were expected to fail in votes Tuesday afternoon.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) continued to rail against the process Democrats were using to advance the treaty and said a decision on something this important should not be "squeezed in" against a deadline. "This is reason enough to delay a vote," he said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) rejected that argument, accusing the GOP leadership of creating a false narrative that would be amplified by the "right-wing blogosphere."

"Is there no shame, ever, with respect to the arguments made sometimes on the floor of the Senate?" asked Kerry. "Today marks our sixth day of debate on the New START Treaty... Now, they'll come to the floor and say, well, we had an intervening vote here, an intervening vote there. Sure, Mr. President, that's the way the United States Senate works. And that's the way it worked when they passed the first START Treaty in five days."

Republican offices still don't agree with Kerry's math, considering that only a few hours have been spent on the treat each day. "Their definition of a day is three and a half hours," said one GOP Senate aide. Republicans will continue to bring amendments in advance of what is looking like a Wednesday evening or Thursday morning final vote on the treaty.

Nobody knows if the treaty supporters have the two-thirds majority needed to pass the resolution of ratification. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed cloture Sunday night, setting up a vote to end debate for Tuesday, which would need 60 votes to be approved. Then, after a maximum of another 30 hours of debate, the Senate will hold a vote on the treaty itself, which needs 51 votes to pass. That will be immediately followed by a vote on the resolution of ratification.

GOP senators were waffling back and forth Monday, with Lindsey Graham (R-SC) threatening to vote no and Thad Cochran (R-MS) threatening to vote yes. Reid and Kerry are intent on moving forward with the vote regardless of Republicans' stated intentions, in what is amounting to a huge gamble by treaty supporters that the votes will be there when the moment of truth comes.

Monday's Senate floor action will center around two amendments, one (PDF) brought by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) that would increase the number of inspections allowed under the treaty and one (PDF) brought by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) to increase the number of nuclear delivery systems allowed under the treaty. Both Inhofe and Thune are expected to vote "no" on New START. Their amendments are expected to be voted down Monday afternoon because treaty supporters have characterized them as "treaty killers" that would require new negotiations with Russia if adopted.

The Senate debated both amendments Monday morning, expecting to head into a closed session Monday afternoon, with votes expected later Monday although no time agreement had been reached.

The Inhofe amendment would triple the number of "Type One" inspections from 10 to 30 and the number of "Type Two" inspections from 8 to 24. The amendment is meant to respond to Republicans' concern that the current number of 18 inspections per year is unfair because the United States only has 17 facilities that qualify for inspections, so Russians would see all of ours in one year. Russia, however, has 35 facilities, so it would take the United States two years to see all the Russian facilities.

Treaty supporters combated Inhofe's concern by quoting senior defense officials, such as Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, who has said he is "very comfortable with the verification regime that exists in the treaty right now," and that the "verification regime that exists in [the New START Treaty] is in ways, better than the one that has existed in the past."

The Thune amendment would increase the maximum number of delivery vehicles in the treaty from 700 to 720. The Congressional Research Service wrote that "[Russia] currently has only 620 launchers, and this number may decline to around 400 deployed and 444 total launchers."

Therefore, some GOP senators argue, this limit only requires action by the United States. They also point out that the Obama administration has yet to explain exactly how they will get down to 700 launchers. The administration's report on the treaty, called the 1251 report, provides for a nuclear delivery vehicle force with up to 420 intercontinental ballistic missiles, 240 submarine launched ballistic missiles, and 60 bombers. That adds up to 720, not 700.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates was planning as recently as September 2008 for a future strategic nuclear force of close to 900 delivery vehicles. Gates and Mullen acknowledged in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 17 that this would still require further reductions to meet the treaty's central limits. 

"The unnaturally low delivery vehicle limit in New START has drastic consequences for each leg of the triad [of delivery vehicles]," read a GOP fact sheet being circulated about the Thune amendment. "And remember, President Obama has said he wants to go even lower than this."

Thune is interested in this issue because South Dakota, his home state, stands to benefit greatly from production of Boeing's Next Generation Bomber, which is meant to replace the aging fleet of strategic bombers being limited under New START.

The National Posture Review points out that the United States currently has 94 nuclear-capable bombers. "It appears that any future nuclear force meeting the New START central limits will have to cut the bomber leg almost in half," the fact sheet said.

Treaty supporters will argue that the treaty gives the United States seven years to reach the 700-launcher threshold. They will also point to the support that the treaty enjoys from senior military officials. In September, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright said, "I believe the treaty limitation of 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles imposed by New START provides a sound framework for maintaining stability and allows us to maintain a strong and credible deterrent that ensures our national security while moving to lower levels of strategic nuclear forces."

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