New START headed toward ratification as GOP support grows

New START headed toward ratification as GOP support grows

More and more Republican senators came out in support for New START Monday afternoon, as the treaty moved closer to ratification after months of negotiations and days of debate.

"I believe we have the votes to ratify this treaty," said Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), after emerging from a two and a half hour closed session, during which senators discussed both unclassified and classified issues related to New START.

Of course, Kerry has been predicting that New START will be ratified for weeks. But multiple GOP senators emerged from the meeting echoing Kerry’s confidence and some even took the opportunity to announce their support for the treaty.

"I’ve done my due diligence and I’m going to be voting for cloture and supporting the New START treaty," said Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA). "I believe it’s something that’s important for our country and I believe it’s a good move forward to deal with our national security issues."

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) wouldn’t go quite that far, but said he was at the same place he was when he voted for the treaty during committee consideration on Sept. 16. He said it would take some new problem to keep him from voting yes.

"The T’s are being crossed and the I’s are being dotted. Something could change but I don’t know what that would be," Corker said. "We all talk about listening to our military leaders… if you go from A to Z there’s a lot of support for this treaty and I don’t think they would support it if they didn’t think it was in the best interests of our country.:

Two more GOP senators also outwardly expressed their support for New START Monday, The Hill reported. "I’m leaning toward supporting the treaty but I want to makes sure our side gets a fair hearing," Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) said. Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) said, "I support it."

In addition to those four, Sens. Richard Lugar (R-ID), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Susan Collins (R-ME) also have pledged their support. That makes 7 GOP yes votes; treaty supporters will need 9 Republican senators to reach the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the treaty. The candidates for those two votes include Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bob Bennett (R-UT), Johnny Isaakson (R-GA), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ).

Meanwhile, senior administration officials have been working the phones in support of the treaty. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden have both made calls to several GOP senators over the last few days on the issue.

There will be a vote on closing debate Tuesday, which will need and likely get 60 votes to pass. After that, the final vote could come Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. The Senate continued to work on two amendments — known as "treaty killers," as they would have required re-negotiation of the treaty with the Russians — brought by Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK) and John Thune (R-SD). Both failed 33-64, and another amendment to the treaty on tactical nuclear weapons brought by Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL) failed 35-62.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that New START "cannot be opened up and become the subject of new negotiations."

Meanwhile, the behind-the-scenes action Monday had turned to amendments to the "Resolution of Ratification," which can be amended without sending the treaty back into negotiations with the Russian government.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) filed one of these amendments (PDF) Monday, along with Kirk and Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Their amendment would codify a pledge to complete the current four-stage plan for developing a missile defense system, preserve the option of going back to the George W. Bush administration scheme for European missile defense sites, state that U.S. missile defense plans are not grounds for Russian withdrawal from the treaty, and pledge not to share any U.S. missile telemetry data with Russia.

Kirk has also filed an amendment to the McCain amendment (PDF), obtained by The Cable, that would expand the ban on telemetry data to include all the other kinds of data, including tracking, targeting, and common operational picture data.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is said to be preparing another amendment to the ROR, and others were floating around Monday evening as well. Kerry and Kyl were working Monday evening to secure a time agreement to allow a couple more amendments to the treaty and then move to amendments on the ROR.

Kyl continued to lead the GOP side of the debate Wednesday evening and was seen chatting with Kerry after the meeting about the road ahead. Kerry said he was open to including Kyl’s ideas for what can be done to the ROR, as everyone here at the Capitol starts to contemplate the end game and the treaty’s eventual completion.

"We were just having a conversation with Senator Kyl. There may be some additional things we can incorporate [before the final vote]," Kerry said.