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."

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.