At long last, the Senate took up the New START Treaty, and the first day went very well.
Before the vote, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and the White House all expressed confidence that the two-thirds vote required to approve the treaty was in hand.
In the initial test, they proved accurate.
The vote on the motion to bring up the treaty was 66 – 32. Although it is a common misconception that 67 Senate votes are needed to approve the treaty, the correct number is actually two-thirds of the Senators present and voting. That milestone was achieved today.
One of the absentees for the vote was Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), who would be the 67th vote.
Nine Republicans voting yes: Bennett (Utah), Brown (MA), Collins (ME), Graham (SC), Lugar (IN), McCain (AZ), Murkowski (AK), Snowe (ME) and Voinovich OH).
While there is no guarantee that all nine Republicans will vote for the treaty on final passage, it is likely.
After the vote, twelve Republicans led by Sen. Jon Kyl (AZ) held a press conference complaining about the procedures under which the treaty was brought up.
Significantly, they griped about shortage of time and closeness to Christmas, but all avoided saying the words: “I will vote against New START in the 111th Congress.”
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-NC) threatened to require the Senate clerk to read the entire bill, a process that could have taken 15 hours. But he backed down, perhaps burdened by the absurdity of complaining about lack of time but then wasting 15 hours of Senate floor time.
The White House is doing a good job; the grassroots are doing a good job; so too is the arms control community; and our Senate leadership is doing just that, leading.
Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Weisman, who was originally negative after yesterday’s vote, upon reflection (and correction) changed to a more positive tune in three tweets (@jonathanweisman):
Senate GOP leadership aide just told me Reid’s decision to allow START debate tonight and tomorrow “went a long way” twd satisfying GOP. He says ratification now “very likely.” Score one for Obama — and Joe Biden. 2nd Senate GOP aide: “The strong vote today to proceed fundamentally changes the dynamic. It’s pretty clear this treaty is going to pass.”
The Senate remains a very unpredictable place. There are still other pieces of legislation for Congress to consider, including finishing the tax bill, appropriations, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense Authorization Bill. The Senate could run out of time.
But the first test drive of the new Treaty could not have gone better.