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New Tea Party Senators are likely ‘no’ votes on New START

New Tea Party Senators are likely ‘no’ votes on New START

If the Senate vote on the New START nuclear reduction treaty with Russia is postponed until next year, the new Tea Party-affiliated senators are likely to vote no.

"I think we need to have more discussion on it, but it doesn’t sound like that I’m probably going to be in favor of that," Kentucky Republican Senator-elect Rand Paul said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.

"Some of it is the devil’s in the details there, and I need to know more about it before making an immediate decision," he said.

Paul, who is a leader of the Tea Partiers though with more libertarian inclinations, added that the Tea Party has no real foreign policy, but that its members are likely to unify around core principles when they descend on Washington next week.

"I think the Tea Party believes in a strong national defense, that it’s a priority for our country, that the Constitution exemplifies and says that national defense is one of our priorities. But, no, primarily the Tea Party is about the debt," said Paul, who also said he supports cuts in the overall defense budget as part of his drive for deficit cuts.

John Isaacs, the executive director of the Council for a Livable World, an arms control organization that supports New START, said Paul’s opposition made sense in light of Tea Parties opposition to  increased government activity both at home and abroad.

"We never expected him to vote for it. Anybody who is from the Tea Party is not likely to support the treaty," said Isaacs. Yes votes are equally unlikely from other Tea Party-affiliated freshman senators, such as Florida Republican Senator-elect Marco Rubio.

Meanwhile, Tea Party groups are trying to raise public opposition to the treaty, with the help of Heritage Action for America, the new lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation.

But the Tea Party senators will only get to weigh in on New START if the administration’s plan to vote on the treaty during this year’s lame duck session of Congress falls apart. Isaacs said the key to making a vote happen during the lame duck session was whether the administration could cut a deal with Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ).

"I still think there’s a very good possibility that the treaty will be considered in a lame duck," said Isaacs. If the treaty vote is pushed to next year, that could mean further delays as the new Congress reorganizes its committee assignments. "A delay for the next two months is probably a delay for five months," Isaacs said.

Various GOP senators have been saying that there might not be enough time in the lame duck session to debate and vote on the treaty, noting that they still have several outstanding questions despite extensive administration efforts to defend and explain the agreement.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told The Cable he didn’t think the lame duck was the right time to finish the treaty, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressed doubt that there was enough time to complete work on New START this year.

Arms control advocates are still hoping that McConnell and Kyl can be convinced to go along with taking up the issue before half a dozen new GOP senators come to town next year.  "He could have said ‘absolutely not,’ but he didn’t say that at all," Isaacs said about McConnell’s remarks.

The Arms Control Association is hosting a public event all day Monday to discuss strategy for the rest of the year and showcase the arguments for the treaty.

John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress, told ABC’s This Week that McConnell’s decision over the treaty would be a clear signal of how the Republicans plan to work with —  or against — President Obama on foreign policy during the next two years.

"I think one of the early tests will be whether the Senate will take up the New START treaty, which has bipartisan support, in a lame-duck session," he said.

Even if the treaty is voted on in the lame duck session, there will be two new senators who have not yet disclosed how they intend to vote: Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mark Kirk (R-IL). Both are open to the overall idea of arms control but both will need to be convinced to sign on the line when it comes to New START.