Senate ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty appears headed for a close vote this week, as Democrats furiously lobbied wavering Republicans on Monday to join them in cobbling together the necessary votes.
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) announced to reporters late Monday afternoon that he would support ratification, giving START one of the nine GOP votes needed to finalize the nuclear weapons treaty with Russia. Ratification requires a supermajority of two-thirds of all Senators present and voting, 67 votes in the full chamber, and the Democratic Conference is united behind it.
The Democrats are looking for the remaining votes from two tiers of GOP Senators, with the first group of five viewed as a lock. The six Republicans in the second group are believed to be undecided, and their votes are likely to determine whether START is ratified before the conclusion of the 111th Congress.
“I think it will be a very close call,” Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), who staunchly supports ratification, said Monday.
Brown’s and Lugar’s votes are included in the first tier, as are those of GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Bob Corker (Tenn.). Collins and Snowe continue to hedge, but Corker signaled during a brief interview that he will be on board.
“I’m still looking to complete getting the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. I think that’s going to occur,” the Tennessee Republican said. “The administration has been very constructive in dealing with issues as we’ve moved along.”
Brown’s and Corker’s comments delivered a boost to President Barack Obama and other START supporters who want the treaty ratified before Christmas, only days away.
Minutes after Brown’s announcement, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry declared during a news conference that he expects the treaty to achieve ratification. The Massachusetts Democrat would not speculate on how close the vote might be, but he expressed confidence that it would be successful.
“I anticipate we’re going to ratify this treaty. I’ll give you the vote count after it’s taken place,” Kerry said, with Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Select Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) at his side. The three spoke after the Senate emerged from a closed session held to debate classified aspects of START.
A vote to end debate and proceed to a final ratification vote is scheduled for Tuesday. That motion requires 60 votes. If successful, a vote on ratification would likely occur Thursday, unless Republicans agreed to hold the vote sooner.
The second tier of possible Republican supporters comprises Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Sens. Bob Bennett (Utah), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and George Voinovich (Ohio). Of that group, Bennett, who is retiring, appears to be the most likely to vote for ratification at this point, despite his close relationship with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is opposed.
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