67 senators voted Tuesday to end debate and proceed to the final hours of the process to ratify New START, as Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) worked behind the scenes to put the final touches on the treaty.
Kerry noted in a press conference following the 67-28 vote to end debate that at least three senators did not attend Tuesday's vote but are expected to vote for the treaty Wednesday: Sens. Judd Gregg (R-NH), Evan Bayh (D-IN), and Ron Wyden (D-WY). That means there are now 70 senators who support New START.
"I would say to you that in today's Senate, 70 votes is yesterday's 95," Kerry remarked with a smile.
Both Kerry and Lugar made great efforts to portray the coming ratification of New START as an instance of bipartisanship in the national interest and not a victory over the Republican leadership, which is opposed to ratification this year.
"Both of us want to call attention to an express our gratitude and I'm very grateful to a number of senators on the other side of the aisle who decided that this was the moment to act in the national security interests of our country," said Kerry.
"I am grateful for all the senators who voted ‘aye' today. There's a very strong momentum factor here," Lugar said.
Kerry said the Senate would now try to do "as many amendments as is possible" with an eye toward holding two final votes - one on the treaty and one on the resolution of ratification - Wednesday morning, or Wednesday afternoon at the latest.
There's no formal time agreement, but Kerry said that Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) had given him a trimmed down list of amendments and that he was working with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) on their specific amendments on missile defense, to see what they could agree on.
McCain's amendment (PDF), cosponsored by Kyl, Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), 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.
Corker has a similar amendment pending now, which is not as strong as McCain's but is also part of the negotiations. "The question is, is there a way to get something even stronger passed," Corker told The Cable in an interview.
"There's a lot in the McCain amendment that we are prepared to accept," Kerry said. He said he talked with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and they were preparing a counter offer to McCain's amendment. Both Biden and Clinton were hanging out at the Capitol Tuesday.
"We can certainly say to Senator McCain, ‘Here's a reasonable way to do this.' It's going to be up to him whether he thinks it accomplishes his goal and is reasonable," Kerry said.
Asked by The Cable whether they thought the months of negotiations with Kyl were misspent, considering that Kyl will ultimately will vote no despite months of hand holding that Lugar often complained about, both Kerry and Lugar took the high road.
"I'm not going to let that sort of question poison the well," Lugar responded. "Whatever I might have advised, it was simply best that we moved as we have, diplomatically, people have had their say, and we are where we are."
"This is not over," warned Kerry. "If in the end, the senate in its wisdom ratifies this treaty, it's a victory for the country, not for anybody else."
Meanwhile, the treaty opponents are finally coming to terms with the likelihood that their efforts to defeat the treaty have failed. Asked whether he would try to stall the final vote as a last stand, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said no.
"I'm just trying to get out of here," Inhofe said. "Aren't you?"
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.