The Cable

Jim DeMint and the war on Christmas vacation

South Carolina GOP Sen. Jim DeMint repeated today his claim that "millions of Americans" are "outraged" that Congress would dare work on major legislation, namely New START, this close to Christmas. He previously called it "sacrilegious."

"Don't tell me about Christmas. I understand Christmas," Vice President Joe Biden responded in a Dec. 16 interview. "There's 10 days between now and Christmas. I hope I don't get in the way of your Christmas shopping, but this is the nation's business. National security's at stake. Act."

Less than a week later, DeMint is back at it again. "It's clear with this treaty that [the administration is] trying to cram something down the throats of the American people under the cover of Christmas," DeMint said in a press conference on Tuesday. "They're not looking at politics right now, they're celebrating their holy Christmas holiday, and the fact that we're doing this under the cover of something to be outraged about."

Here at the Capitol building, there's some confusion about exactly how long before Dec. 25 Congress should stop working on major bills (so as not to offend the "millions" of outraged Christians DeMint is standing up for), and why only Christian holidays should be protected from major legislation.

In an exclusive interview with The Cable, DeMint explained what commentators have coined his drive to combat the "war on Christmas vacation." Here's the transcript:

JR: Senator DeMint, exactly how long before Christmas Day is the period during which the American people don't want Congress to work on major legislation, in your view?

JD: It has nothing to do with us not being willing to work. For the [continuing resolution] I'm willing to work right through New Year's. It's just, trying to do [New START] under the cover of people being distracted. We've worked with a lot of people on the outside and around the country who feel this is a bad way to do a bad treaty. People are distracted.

JR: How long are people distracted before Christmas? Is it the entire month of December, or what?

JD: The whole lame duck [session] to me is an illegitimate process and the intent to do whatever is the nation's business that has to be done, such as fund the government. But to pass major legislation during the lame duck is not the intent. People who are here, the voters have changed a lot of them. Doing it during Christmas is just one piece of it. The big issue is using the lame duck of unaccountable senators to ram through a major arms control treaty. That's the issue.

JR: Why invoke only the Christian holidays? Congress works on major legislation during Jewish holidays, Muslim holidays. You never said anything about that, right? Aren't Jews distracted during Hannukah?

JD: Sure, we normally take off for Jewish holidays. It's more of the distraction of the end of the year. I'm not trying to make it just an issue of Christmas. But it is obvious that Americans do not expect their unelected officials to come in and make major decisions when we're not supposed to be here and they're not paying attention.

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The Cable

New START clears vote threshold; Kyl won't admit defeat

Everyone here on Capitol Hill is beginning to see the ratification of New START as increasingly inevitable -- everyone, that is, except for Sen. Jon Kyl.

As the Senate headed toward a vote to close debate on the treaty, more and more GOP senators came out in favor of the agreement, pushing the number of Republicans supporting New START past the nine-vote threshold that would ensure the necessary two-thirds majority for ratification of the treaty in the final vote coming Thursday.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) was the latest Republican to publicly declare his support.

"I will vote to ratify the New Start treaty between the United States and Russia because it leaves our country with enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to kingdom come, and because the president has committed to an $85 billion ten-year plan to make sure that those weapons work," he said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. "I will vote for the treaty because it allows for inspection of Russian warheads and because our military leaders say it does nothing to interfere with the development of a missile defense system. I will vote for the treaty because the last six Republican secretaries of state support its ratification. In short, I'm convinced that Americans are safer and more secure with the New Start Treaty than without it."

GOP Sens. Johnny Isaakson (R-GA) and Bob Bennett (R-UT) also expressed their support for New START Tuesday and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was expected to follow suit this afternoon.

Add to those votes the support already expressed by Sens. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Scott Brown (R-MA), and George Voinovoich (R-OH), and that's enough votes to ratify START. All Senate Democrats are expected to vote in favor of the treaty.

The current fence-sitters include Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and John McCain (R-AZ), some or all of whom could ultimately vote yes.

Republican senators who are definitely voting no include Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), James Risch (R-ID), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Kit Bond (R-MO), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who led a press conference Tuesday morning to declare that he was not giving up on his drive to push the consideration of the treaty until next year.

"I honestly don't know what all of my colleagues are going to do," Kyl said. "We believe this process has not enabled us to consider this treaty in the serious way it should have been considered. I hope a lot of our colleagues would agree with that."

Graham, who was signaling he might vote for the treat only a week ago, was the most indignant senator in complaining about the process Democrats have used to move the treaty during the lame duck session of Congress.

He also railed against his own party for the way they have handled the treaty and acted throughout the lame duck session.

"I stand here very disappointed in the fact that our lead negotiator on the Republican side... basically is going to have his work product ignored and the treaty jammed through in the lame duck. How as Republicans we justify that I do not know," Graham said. "To Senator Kyl, I want to apologize to you for the way you've been treated by your colleagues."

Graham kept talking about Kyl's offer to hold the debate over nine days in late January and early February, with an agreement to vote in early February. As far as the administration is concerned, that offer is no longer on the table.

DeMint continued to accuse the Democrats of waging a war against Christmas vacation, as he communicated what he saw as the "outrage" of "millions of Americans" over the Democrats' actions.

"It's clear with this treaty that [the administration is] trying to cram something down the throats of the American people under the cover of Christmas," DeMint said. "They're not looking at politics right now, they're celebrating their holy Christmas holiday, and the fact that we're doing this under the cover of Christmas... is something to be outraged about."