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Non-voting House GOPers call for delay on New START vote

Now that the Obama administration and congressional Republicans have reached an agreement on extending the Bush-era tax cuts, the attention on Capitol Hill turns to whether there’s enough time to debate and vote on the New START treaty with Russia this month. On Tuesday, 16 GOP members of the House of Representatives weighed in on ...

Now that the Obama administration and congressional Republicans have reached an agreement on extending the Bush-era tax cuts, the attention on Capitol Hill turns to whether there's enough time to debate and vote on the New START treaty with Russia this month. On Tuesday, 16 GOP members of the House of Representatives weighed in on the decision, calling for a delay on the vote until next year.

"We are troubled by the Administration's push to ratify the New START Treaty amid outstanding concerns regarding Russian intentions, missile defense limitations, and nuclear modernization," the congressmen, who do not have a vote on the pact, wrote Tuesday to Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "Given the security implications associated with this treaty and the importance of such a treaty enjoying bipartisan support, we believe the Senate should not be rushed in its deliberations. Therefore, we urge the Senate not to vote on the New START Treaty in the lame duck congressional session and certainly not until these important security issues are resolved."

The representatives, led by incoming House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee ranking Republican Mike Turner (R-OH), acknowledge in the letter that they have no official say over the treaty's ratification. But nevertheless, they want to make their voices heard.

Now that the Obama administration and congressional Republicans have reached an agreement on extending the Bush-era tax cuts, the attention on Capitol Hill turns to whether there’s enough time to debate and vote on the New START treaty with Russia this month. On Tuesday, 16 GOP members of the House of Representatives weighed in on the decision, calling for a delay on the vote until next year.

"We are troubled by the Administration’s push to ratify the New START Treaty amid outstanding concerns regarding Russian intentions, missile defense limitations, and nuclear modernization," the congressmen, who do not have a vote on the pact, wrote Tuesday to Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "Given the security implications associated with this treaty and the importance of such a treaty enjoying bipartisan support, we believe the Senate should not be rushed in its deliberations. Therefore, we urge the Senate not to vote on the New START Treaty in the lame duck congressional session and certainly not until these important security issues are resolved."

The representatives, led by incoming House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee ranking Republican Mike Turner (R-OH), acknowledge in the letter that they have no official say over the treaty’s ratification. But nevertheless, they want to make their voices heard.

"The outcome of the treaty will undoubtedly impact national security policy and investment decisions within our jurisdiction as authorizers of the annual defense bill, and we will be responsible for overseeing its implementation," they wrote. "Because of these roles, we feel compelled to express our concerns."

On Thursday, 22 GOP senators, who do get a vote, wrote to McConnell (PDF) to lay out their position on the New START treaty. They stated that they wanted to be consulted before any agreement is reached, that the ratification debate shouldn’t be rushed, and that they must see the full negotiating record between the administration and the Russians before the vote — a record the administration has already said it won’t provide.

The senators didn’t say they would definitely vote no if the treaty comes up this month, but that’s the implicit threat. Even without these 22 votes, the treaty could garner the 67 votes needed for ratification, but not without Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and the votes he brings in tow.

The letters sent by the GOP congressman and senators are just the latest in the public back and forth over whether there’s enough time to complete the treaty during the lame duck session. On Dec. 3, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told The Cable in an exclusive interview that an agreement with the GOP to hold the vote this month was close. "It’s like a no-hit game. We’ve made a lot of progress, but it’s not done until it’s done," she said.

Kyl, who has said that the debate on New START can’t begin until the taxes issue is resolved, said Dec. 5 on CBS’s Face the Nation that "there is not time to do it in the lame duck when you consider all of the other things that the Democratic leader wants to do."

That comment prompted Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) to say Monday that he was getting "mixed signals" from the GOP.

"There are some on the Democratic side that thought we were in good shape to call it before we left, and to act on it. And, then over the weekend, Sen. Kyl said it would not be called during the lame-duck session. So, I can’t tell you exactly where we are today," Durbin said.

On the same day as Kyl’s pessimistic statement, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) said that he was optimistic about holding a vote on the treaty this year. "The votes are there [to ratify the treaty]," Lugar told CNN’s Candy Crowley.

The administration continues to build its case for a debate and vote on New START this year, securing the albeit-reserved endorsement of the final former secretary of state yet to weigh in publicly on the treaty.

"With the right commitments and understandings, ratification of the New Start treaty can contribute to this goal," former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal. "If the Senate enters those commitments and understandings into the record of ratification, New Start deserves bipartisan support, whether in the lame-duck session or next year."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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