Obama Administration Steps Up Push for ‘Lame Duck’ Ratification of Arms Control Deal

By Patrick Goodenough | November 22, 2010 | 5:09 AM EST

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, flanked by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), talks about the new START Treaty on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

(CNSNews.com) – Ramping up the campaign to get the Senate to ratify the New START arms reduction treaty during the lame duck session of Congress, President Obama devoted his weekly radio broadcast to the issue while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed it home doing the rounds of the Sunday talk shows.

With a two-thirds vote needed for ratification, the administration needs at least eight Republican Senators to vote with all of the Democrats to succeed. If the matter rolls over to the next Congress, the required number rises to at least 14.

With time passing and the number of opposed or undecided Republican senators evidently climbing, Clinton was asked on both CBS’s Face the Nation and NBC’s Meet the Press whether the president was risking failure in nailing down a foreign policy priority so soon after being unable to finalize a free-trade deal with South Korea earlier this month.

After disputing that the two situations were analogous, Clinton reiterated the argument that arms reduction treaties with Moscow have historically enjoyed strong support from Democrats and Republicans.

In this case, she told CBS, New START had been voted out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by “a big bipartisan vote.” In the NBC interview, she called it “an overwhelming bipartisan vote.”

The committee vote last September was 14-4. The committee has eight Republican members, one of whom – Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) – was not present during the vote. De Mint, a vocal critic of the treaty, wrote to committee chairman Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) later to confirm that he would have voted against the resolution had he been present.

Of the seven Republicans present, three voted with the committee’s Democrats. They were Sens. Richard Lugar (Ind.) – the ranking member and a strong advocate of the treaty – Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.).

What Clinton described Sunday as “an overwhelming bipartisan vote” saw fewer than half of the committee’s Republicans, three out of eight, support the measure.

In recent days several Republican senators have come out in opposition to voting on the treaty before the end of the 111th  Congress.

Most damaging to the administration’s cause was the stance taken by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who holds the powerful minority whip position.

Kyl said in a brief statement last week that he did not think the treaty should be considered during the lame duck session “given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization.”

President Obama attends a meeting on the new START treaty in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Nov. 18, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

And three moderate Republicans whom the administration had hoped would help get it closer to the 67 votes needed for ratification have also signaled their caution.

Maine’s Sun Journal reported that both of the state’s senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, appeared to be hedging on the issue, and quoted them as voicing concerns about aspects of the treaty.

Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.) has also expressed doubts about the treaty, especially the question about whether it will limit U.S. missile defense options. (Critics such as the Heritage Foundation say that it will; the administration and proponents say it will not.)

Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.) said in an interview with Bloomberg last week that he did not believe the treaty should be “rushed through in the lame-duck session” and Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) delivered a floor speech on Wednesday in which he said he was concerned about the impact of the treaty on “our friends and allies in Central and Eastern Europe.”

New START is meant to replace the 1991 START I treaty, which expired last December. Since then U.S. on-site monitoring of Russian strategic forces has been suspended – a point stressed by the administration in arguing for the urgency of quick ratification.

At the NATO summit in Lisbon at the weekend, Obama said he had received support for the treaty START from a number of allies, including Poland and Germany.

Both Obama and Clinton warned that failing to ratify the treaty would endanger significant gains made in bilateral relations with Russia.

The president returned to the subject in his weekly White House address, saying that failure to pass the treaty would put at risk Russia’s “indispensable” help in enforcing sanctions against Iran, securing loose nuclear material and equipping coalition troops in Afghanistan.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow