Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate will vote next week on approving ratification of a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.
“A number of Republican senators” told him that “they needed six or seven days to debate and offer amendments” on the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the Nevada Democrat said on the Senate floor yesterday as the chamber ended its first day of debate on the agreement.
“If the math works out the way I think it will,” he said, debate may end “early Monday morning” and the Senate would vote “next week.” The Senate is expected to be in session tomorrow and possibly on Dec. 19.
The Senate’s 66-32 vote Dec. 15 to start consideration of the treaty highlights how narrow a majority President Barack Obama and his Democratic Party may have for a treaty that requires two-thirds of the senators present and voting -- 67, if all 100 are in the chamber -- for approval.
Some Republicans have sought to delay consideration of the treaty until next year, and are considering offering amendments that would slow debate during the post-election session. Republicans filed only one amendment yesterday, Reid said.
“There’s a great deal of discussion that needs to be made as a predicate” before amendments would be offered, said Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, who is leading his party’s critics of the treaty.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry told reporters at the Capitol yesterday that there may be as many as 20 Republican-backed amendments “floating around” for possible consideration. Democrats won’t support amending the treaty because it would require a renegotiation with the Russians, the Massachusetts Democrat said.
“We’re prepared to stay as long as necessary,” Kerry said. “We are prepared to get this treaty done.”
The treaty, known as New START, is part of Obama’s attempt to reset U.S. relations with Russia, and ratification would be a victory on one of his top foreign policy priorities. The administration and Senate leaders have said they have enough support to get the two-thirds majority needed to approve ratification.
Critics say the treaty limits U.S. options for developing missile defenses, a project Russia has opposed. They also argue that the new accord’s verification standards aren’t strong enough and that Obama hasn’t made enough assurances that the existing U.S. arsenal will be adequately maintained.
“I think there were some legitimate concerns, but frankly, I think they’ve been addressed,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday at a joint news conference with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the White House. “I think there were some misunderstandings, frankly, on missile defense.”
Treaty opponents are up against current and former U.S. military commanders and Cabinet secretaries, including Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell, who have urged that the Senate support ratification.
“All the Joint Chiefs are very much behind this treaty,” Marine Corps General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Washington yesterday.
Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and a treaty supporter, said the Senate has had months, including a dozen open and classified hearings, to consider the agreement.
“Failure of the United States Senate to approve the treaty would result in an expansion of arms competition with Russia,” Lugar said on the Senate floor Dec. 15.
“With all that we need to achieve, why would we add to our problems by separating ourselves from Russia over a treaty that our own military wants ratified?” he asked.
Democrats control 58 votes in the 100-seat Senate until next month, when Republicans will have five more seats as a result of November’s midterm elections.
Russian lawmakers are awaiting U.S. Senate action before proceeding to their own ratification vote. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the accord in April.
The treaty limits each side’s strategic warheads to no more than 1,550, from 2,200 allowed previously, and sets a maximum of 800 land-, air- and sea-based launchers. Each of the last three arms-reduction treaties was ratified with more than 90 votes. The previous treaty expired in December 2009.
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