The latest news from a surprisingly productive lame duck Congress is that the START Treaty — a treaty backed by all living former U.S. Presidents and many key Republican policymakers of past administrations — looks like it’s going to pass.
The surprise is that it was at risk at all. But depending on your political viewpoint (choose your perception) it looked like it would not pass in this session since some GOPers in the Senate felt there were unanswered questions, OR it looked like it would not pass to make sure Barack Obama doesn’t get it passed when he wanted it passed OR it looked like it would not pass because some GOPers wanted to do payback for Obama and the Democrats getting Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repealed using a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who for some reason were not swayed by the latest installment of increasingly strident warnings of Arizona Senator John “I Was Never a Maverick” McCain (and yes, Senator McCain, I now take you at your word on that).
It’s possible it still could fall short — but that possibility is looking less likely than it did 48 hours ago:
Senate Democrats appear to have the nine Republican votes they need to ratify the New START nuclear treaty this week and give President Obama his third major victory of the lame-duck session.
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) told reporters Monday afternoon that he would vote to ratify the treaty and also support a motion to end debate, which the Senate will consider Tuesday.
“I believe it’s something that’s important for our country and I believe it’s a good move forward,” Brown said after emerging from a classified briefing in the Old Senate Chamber.
This ensures Brown will face some angry GOPers when he runs for re-election — but this vote probably will help him in any re-election bid with Massachusetts’s general electorate. Some members of the party’s talk radio political culture were angry enough when Brown supported the repeal of DADT.
He was the ninth Republican senator to announce publicly that he would vote to ratify or is leaning strongly in favor of doing so. All 58 members of the Democratic conference — including two independents, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.) — support it.
….Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, became the 10th Republican to back the treaty on Monday evening.
[Senator John] Kerry released to colleagues who attended Monday’s briefing a letter endorsing ratification from Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“This treaty has the full support of your uniformed military, and we all support ratification,” Mullen wrote in the letter to Kerry.
“I continue to believe that ratification of the New Start treaty is vital to U.S. national security,” Mullen concluded.
Senate ratification requires 67 votes or the support of two-thirds of the senators present in the chamber, assuming there is a quorum.
GOP senators — including those who plan to vote for the treaty and those who say they’ll oppose it — have told The Hill they expect the resolution of ratification to pass easily.
The Hill further reports that for Obama getting this treaty pass is not just political but also personal:
President Obama is making a final push to secure the votes for an arms treaty that stands not just as a political goal but a highly personal one.
The president needs nine Republican votes to win the two-thirds Senate majority to ratify the New START treat with Russia, and Obama has continued to call Republican senators to bring them on board, according to the White House.
Obama seems near another victory in what has been a surprisingly productive lame-duck session. Every Senate Democrat is expected to support ratification, and several Republican senators, most recently Scott Brown (R-Mass.), have said they will vote to approve the treaty.
Ratification would be the crowning achievement for Obama in a post-election session that has already seen passage of an $858 billion tax package and the repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
Yet to Obama, ratification of the arms treaty may be even more important.
“It’s personal, but it’s far greater than that,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday at his daily briefing.
Obama has long envisioned nuclear nonproliferation efforts as a part of his future legacy, and one of his first moves after being elected to the Senate in 2004 was to seek out Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) to advance the cause of nuclear nonproliferation.
Just months into his presidency, Obama promised to work for a world “without nuclear weapons,” a pledge that led the Norwegian Nobel Committee to honor him with the Nobel Peace Prize less than a year after Obama took office.
“The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations,” the committee said in explaining its decision.
Obama seemed chagrined by the decision but in attending the ceremony to pick up the prize characterized the selection as a “call to action.”
What has been most notable about the controversy swirling around the START Treaty’s ratification is that it has become the embodiment of the kind of short-sited, partisan, get even skirmish that seems to be the style of early 21st century American politics. Various news reports noted how some wanted to defeat the treaty for the simple fact that it would be not giving Obama a “win.” But it has become clear by the number of thoughtful members of past Republican administrations who don’t sound like polarizing talk show hosts when they open their mouths that extremely serious issues were at play here.
It could still fall short in the votes — but the betting here is that if that happens it will be a negative for Senate Republicans because coverage in the media would invariably quote all the GOPers who clamored to have it passed on the grounds that it was vital.
HERE ARE SOME OTHER VIEWS ON THIS STORY:
—Hot Air’s Allahpundit:
Exit question one: Which was the bigger influence on the GOP, Russian threats that the treaty would collapse if the U.S. tried to change it or an almost united front in favor of START from top diplomats who served in Republican administrations? Exit question two: Between his vocal support for this treaty, his backing of the DREAM Act, and his refusal to yank his earmarks from the omnibus spending bill, does Dick Lugar have a primary death wish? Or is he secretly planning to retire and ready to throw caution to the wind?
With the Democrats unified behind the treaty, nine Republican votes were needed, and it appears that by yesterday the tireless lobbying of administration officials had convinced enough fence-sitters, like Scott Brown and Johnny Isakson of Georgia. Assuming there are no surprises, this would be the third major victory for President Obama in the lame-duck session. What shellacking? There was a shellacking?
It wasn’t easy, though. Despite approval from former Republican secretaries of State and other national-security heavyweights, and the overwhelming support the Senate has historically given to arms-limitations treaties, most of the Senate GOP just hasn’t been on board. Some worry that the treaty will hinder our plans for a missile-defense system, others probably just don’t want to make President Obama look good, if we’re going to be cynical about it. And of course, as with everything else in the lame-duck session, there’s the issue of timing.
No matter how it will make McCain, McConnell, and Graham pout, the Senate should be able to ratify the “New” START Treaty, having secured nine Republican votes.
I know everyone is super-excited about this — what gets the blood running like arms control debates? OK, almost anything does. And in this case that’s quite proper. As Cathy Young laid out in an smart column two weeks ago, this treaty doesn’t matter much one way or another, and “its victory in Congress will not be the achievement the Obama Administration will undoubtedly tout.” The nice thing about passing the treaty, though, is that it means that (per the Bob Kagan argument mentioned in this space last month) the Obama administration will not be able to blame the Senate when the “reset” policy with Russia inevitably fails.
This could fail, and I’m always going to be a critic, and I still think his hectoring of the Left is more catharsis then pragmatism.
But at this point, it has to be said that Barack Obama is doing work.
And what about this reported side deal to make the McCain contingent happy? Apparently, they want some kind of formal assurances that the U.S. would pursue missile defense in Europe, regardless of Russian objections, which would not require formal changes to New START itself. The proposal is being pushed by McCain, Graham, Kyl, and Kirk, though it’s unclear if any of the four would end up supporting ratification, even if their plan were adopted, and the White House has not yet commented on their offer.
Regardless, at this point, the votes appear to be in place whether this additional amendment is approved or not.
Health care and Wall Street reform were far from the only shows in town. People will remember the 111th Congress as the best and most consequential of most of our lifetimes. And for those of us that had a front row seat? It was appalling, depressing, spirit-deadening, and completely sub-optimal. Go figure. I think it is best not to watch too closely.
THEY BENT OVER FOR THE LIBS ON THE FOOD REG’S AND DADT.
WILL THEY NOW GO 3-FOR-THREE AND FELLATE THE RUSKIES?
DAMN THOSE WHO DO.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.