(CNSNews.com) – Thirteen Senate Republicans joined Democrats Wednesday as the lame-duck U.S. Senate approved the New START arms-reduction treaty with Russia. The pact, a key foreign policy priority for President Obama, has generated significant debate in recent weeks.
Senior administration figures were present as the Senate voted 71-26 in favor of the treaty. Vice President Joe Biden presided over the roll-call vote and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was also on hand.
Addressing a press conference later Wednesday, President Obama hailed what he described as a “strong, bipartisan vote.” Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and ranking Republican Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) also characterized the vote as a bipartisan achievement.
Although the vote tally reflected more GOP support than had been predicted – four votes more than the minimum needed for passage – the scale of bipartisanship was smaller than has been the case with previous arms-reduction pacts.
The START I Treaty – the pact that New START will replace – was approved by the Senate in October 1992 by a vote of 93-6; START II was endorsed for ratification in January 1996 by a vote of 87-4; The Strategic Offensive Reductions (SORT) Treaty was approved unanimously in March 2003.
The 13 Republicans who voted with the Democrats on Wednesday were Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Bob Bennett (Utah), Scott Brown (Mass.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Mike Johanns (Neb.), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and George Voinovich (Ohio).
Three of them, Gregg, Bennett and Voinovich, are leaving the Senate.
Three other Republicans who will not return to the Senate next year – Sens. Christopher Bond (Mo.), Sam Brownback (Kans.) and Jim Bunning (Ky.) – did not vote on Wednesday.
Signed by Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev in Prague last April, New START commits the U.S. and Russia to reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550, within seven years, down from the current limit of 2,200.
Among other things, critics were concerned about verification procedures and the implications for future U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses, to protect itself and allies from missile attack from hostile states like Iran.
Many Republicans also argued that a treaty of such importance should not be rushed through in the waning days of Congress.
The Heritage Foundation, which advocated against ratification, noted that it was the first time the Senate had given its advice and consent to the ratification of a major treaty during a lame-duck session.
(Had the vote been delayed until the new Congress, the number of required Republican votes would have risen to 14 – one more than the number achieved on Wednesday.)
The White House and other treaty proponents insisted that New START would do nothing to constrain U.S. missile defense options, and argued that senators had plenty of time to examine the treaty over the months since it was signed.
The administration produced prominent supporters for the treaty including top military officers and Republican former secretaries of state.