Clinton, Kerry, and Lugar: We need to do New START this year

Clinton, Kerry, and Lugar: We need to do New START this year

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, standing alongside Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), dug in Wednesday morning on the administration’s call for the New START treaty with Russia to be ratified this year.

Clinton spoke to the press after attending an early morning meeting in the Capitol building that included Kerry, Lugar, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ), Senate Appropriations Committee ranking Republican Thad Cochran (R-MS), Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee ranking Republican Judd Gregg (R-NH), and others.

The key GOP vote on New START, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), did not attend. The meeting was meant to gather bipartisan support for the increased appropriations the administration plans to request for nuclear modernization — some $4.1 billion for fiscal 2012, on top of the $80 billion the administration has promised for modernization over the next 10 years.

Clinton spoke about the administration’s effort to get Congress to agree to the funding in advance, in order to satisfy Kyl. "We will continue to intensify those discussions in the coming days, and we’re confident that there well may be a bipartisan consensus emerging on the need for such funding," she said.

She also argued that the Senate’s action this year on New START would be an indicator of how the GOP intends to work with the administration during the next Congressional session.

"This is exactly what the American people expect us to do, to come together and do what is necessary to protect our country. We can and we must go forward now on the New START treaty during the lame duck session," Clinton said.

The idea is to assure Kyl that the modernization money is guaranteed, even though the fiscal 2012 budget request won’t be released until February. That was one of the demands Kyl made in exchange for his support, which could bring along a significant portion of the GOP caucus.

Administration officials traveled all the way to Arizona late last week to present the broad outlines of the administration’s latest offer to Kyl personally. But Tuesday morning, Kyl issued a statement that said he did not believe there was enough time in the lame duck session of Congress to debate and vote on the treaty. Aides told The Cable that Kyl was still waiting to see details of the offer in writing, along with an updated report on nuclear modernization.

The Tuesday morning statement came as a shock to the administration, which had thought a deal with Kyl was imminent. Administration sources say its timing showed a potential lack of good faith by Kyl. The statement came just days after the trip to Arizona and exactly one day before Kyl was set to meet with Kerry, Clinton, Vice President Joseph Biden, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the White House.

Our Congressional sources said that meeting, scheduled for today, has now been cancelled. But Kerry met Kyl later on Wednesday morning, and told The Cable he is now meeting regularly with Kyl on the issue. Kyl told The Cable Wednesday that negotiations are ongoing.

Overall, the message from Clinton on Wednesday was that the treaty must be done this year, that it represents a risk to national security not to have a treaty in place, and that the administration would continue working with senators to get a vote before the year’s end.

Despite Kyl’s latest statement, which the administration viewed as extremely unhelpful, Kerry told The Cable Tuesday that he "takes Kyl at his word that he is negotiating in good faith."

Regardless, statements by other senators Tuesday that consideration of the treaty should be delayed until next year also damaged the administration’s push for a vote. Senators who are now calling for delay include Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who voted for the treaty in committee, and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE).

Kerry’s message Wednesday was that he believes there are no disagreements on substance between Democrats and Republicans on New START, that he would do whatever was necessary to address senators’ concerns, and that since this Congress has done the work on New START, it’s this Congress that should vote on it.

"We have reached out for months," Kerry said Wednesday. "As of today, the last questions posed by some senators have been answered."