By John Isaacs and Kingston Reif
New START Debate (Day 8, the final day – December 22)
After a battle that lasted many months, the Senate voted 71-26 to give its advice and consent to the New START Resolution of Ratification.
The effort to win the Senate’s two-thirds majority was like riding a roller coaster, with optimism followed by pessimism followed by optimism and back and forth.
Ultimately, the vote was a remarkably bipartisan victory in an intensely hyper-partisan atmosphere. It is a victory for the consensus of former national security officials of both parties and both active duty and retired military.
It is certainly a victory for the Obama Administration that won three major bipartisan measures in the waning days of Congress: the tax cut bill, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and New START.
By approving New START, the United States has sent a strong signal to the world that it can be counted on to be a reliable partner and leader in promoting nuclear stability. The treaty will also help buttress cooperative efforts with Russia and others to secure and safeguard nuclear material stockpiles and warheads and maintain and strengthen support for tougher measures against rogue states such as North Korea and Iran.
Before the final vote, the Senate adopted a Kyl amendment by voice vote, worked out with Senator Kerry (D-MA) and the Administration, to accelerate funding for modernization of the nuclear weapons complex.
The Senate also adopted by voice vote a McCain (R-AZ), Lieberman (I-CT), Corker (R-TN) amendment to make it clear that the United States does not accept the Russian interpretation of the missile defense language in the treaty and an understanding that the preamble to the treaty is not binding (stating the obvious and restating Obama Administration position).
Ratification of the treaty is only the beginning. The U.S. and Russia should take advantage of the momentum created by the approval of New START to pursue negotiations on reductions in all types of nuclear warheads, including non-deployed and non-strategic warheads, in a timely manner.
Lots of credit goes to Senators Kerry and Lugar (R-IN), who managed the treaty, other Senators who have been active for the treaty such as Casey (D-PA), Shaheen (D-NH), Cardin (D-MD), Franken (D-MN) and others, the Obama Administration who put together a terrific campaign (and I will not name everyone because there are too many to name) and a terrific effort by the arms control community.
It is now time for everyone to scatter for their well-deserved holiday vacations.
New START Debate (Day 7 – December 21)
After months of consideration, the New START treaty finally stands on the verge of approval. This afternoon the Senate voted to invoke cloture to end debate on the treaty by a vote of 67-28. The Senate now has up to 30 hours to wrap up debate and consider amendments to the treaty and resolution of ratification, though a final vote of approval could occur before that time is up, perhaps as early as tomorrow.
Eleven Republicans voted to invoke cloture: Alexander (R-TN), Bennett (R-UT), Brown (R-MA), Cochran (R-MS), Collins (R-ME), Corker (R-TN), Isakson (R-GA), Lugar (R-IN), Murkowski (R-AK), Snowe (R-ME), and Voinovich (R-OH). Five Senators did not vote, including three Senators (Wyden (D-OR), Bayh (D-IN), and Gregg (R-NH)) who also plan to vote in favor of final passage. Additional Republicans could yet join this already impressive list before it’s all said and done.
Earlier today a number of Republican Senators signaled their intention to vote for cloture and ultimately for the treaty. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the third-ranking Republican, proclaimed: “I will vote to ratify the New START Treaty…In short, I’m convinced that Americans are safer and more secure with the New START Treaty than without it.” Likewise, Senators Isakson, Murkowski, Cochran, and Corker also formally stated that they would vote for the treaty, ensuring that there would be more than the 2/3rds majority required for approval.
In addition to the cloture vote, the Senate considered five amendments: one to the text of the treaty and four to the resolution of ratification. To date, no amendments offered on the floor have been approved.
An amendment to the text of the treaty offered by Senator Ensign (R-NV) to provide for a clear definition of rail-mobile missiles failed by a vote of 63-32. A motion to table an amendment to the resolution of ratification to condition the entry into force of the START Treaty on the President certifying that Russia has returned all military equipment owned by the U.S. that was confiscated during the Russian invasion of Georgia was approved by a vote of 61-32.
An amendment offered by Senator Wicker (R-MS) to the resolution of ratification to add an understanding on the Bilateral Consultative Commission failed by a vote of 59-34. An amendment offered by Senator Kyl (R-AZ) to the resolution of ratification on nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) was defeated by a vote of 62-31. A second amendment to the resolution of ratification offered by Senator Kyl on verification was rejected by a vote of 63-30.
The Senate is scheduled to resume debate on the treaty tomorrow morning at 9 AM. Although opponents of the treaty are getting soundly defeated on amendment after amendment, there is no time certain for the final vote.
New START debate (Day Six – December 20)
Most of the sixth day of the Senate’s consideration of New START followed the same leisurely pace as the previous days, though with a cloture vote to end debate on the treaty scheduled for tomorrow, there were signs that the pace could substantially quicken.
The Senate has now considered the New START treaty for more days than START I, START II, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Moscow Treaty. And U.S. national security leaders continued to stress the urgency of ratification. In a letter to Senator Kerry, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen wrote: “The sooner it [New START} is ratified, the better.”
This message appears to be continuing to rub off on a number of key Republican Senators. This afternoon Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) indicated that he intends to support ratification of New START. “I’ve done my due diligence, and I’m going to be … ultimately supporting the START treaty,” Brown told reporters. “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.”
Senator Corker (R-TN) also all but confirmed that he will vote for the treaty. “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. Senators Gregg and Voinovich also stated that they are likely yes votes. Taken together, these affirmations of support bode well for a successful ratification vote, which could occur as early as tomorrow – or Wednesday or Thursday.
Today the Senate followed a period of open debate with a three-hour secret session to discuss the treaty. It then returned to open session to debate and vote on three amendments to the text of the treaty.
The first was an amendment offered by Senator Inhofe (R-OK) to increase the number of on-site inspections allowed under New START. The vote failed 33-64. Republican Senators Alexander (R-TN), Bennett (R-UT), Corker (R-TN), Gregg (R-NH), Isakson (R-GA), Lugar (R-IN), Murkowski (R-AK), and Voinovich (R-OH) voted against the amendment.
The second amendment considered was an amendment offered by Senator Thune (R-SD) to increase the number of deployed strategic nuclear delivery vehicles allowed under New START. The amendment was defeated by the same 33-64 vote. Republican Senators Alexander, Bennett, Collins (R-ME), Corker, Gregg, Lugar, Murkowski, and Voinovich voted against the amendment.
The final amendment considered today was an amendment offered by Senator LeMieux (R-FL) to amend the treaty to require that both the U.S. and Russia begin negotiations to reduce non-strategic nuclear weapons no later than one year after New START enters into force. The amendment failed 35-62. Republican Senators Alexander, Bennett, Corker, Gregg, Lugar, and Voinovich voted against the amendment.
To date five amendments to the text of the treaty have been overwhelmingly voted down. No amendments to the resolution of ratification have been considered – yet. However, the Senate may begin considering amendments to the resolution of ratification tomorrow, including an amendment filed by Senator John McCain on missile defense.
At 10:15 AM tomorrow the Senate will hold a cloture vote on the Continuing Resolution to fund the government until March. Then there are up to 30 hours of debate, but it is likely that most of the time will not be used.
When the Senate votes on final passage of the Continuing Resolution, it will vote on cloture on New START. Assuming that we will be successful, which we expect, the Senate will then have 30 hours to complete its business on the treaty.
Expect a final vote on the resolution or ratification either tomorrow or Wednesday or Thursday. The endgame appears to finally be upon us.
The Senate continued its leisurely pace on New START on Sunday, December 19.
The Senate voted on one amendment, defeating a Risch (R-ID) amendment on tactical nuclear weapons. The Risch amendment lost 32 – 60. Five Republicans voted against the amendment; Alexander (R-TN), Bennett (R-UT), Corker (R-TN), Gregg (R-NH), Lugar (R-IN).
Clearly we have the votes to defeat any Republican amendments. We still probably have the votes to approve the treaty by a two-thirds margin, but it is a close call. On one of the interview programs, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he would vote no on the treaty. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) , who voted last week to bring up the treaty, said on another interview program that he would vote no unless the Russians approve in advance stage four of the European missile defense system. On a third program, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) made official his opposition to New START as it now stands.
On Monday, the Senate is slated to begin debate on New START at 10:00 AM Monday, and then go into secret session at 2:00 PM to discuss the treaty.
In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed cloture on the treaty today, with the cloture vote scheduled on Tuesday. If there are 60 votes for cloture, there still could be 30 hours of debate on amendments to the treaty or the resolution of ratification, although some or all of that time could be waived.
Republicans have offered 38 amendments to the treaty or the resolution of ratification.
New START debate (Day 4 – December 18)
This morning, the Senate invoked cloture (ending debate) on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and then Republicans agreed to a 3:00 final vote on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (which passed) and then voted on the McCain missile defense amendment.
The fact that Republicans did not insist on all 30 hours they were entitled to in the post-cloture debate on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is a hopeful sign that they will not drag out the New START debate until Thursday. He says hopefully.
There was impassioned debate over missile defense, Ronald Reagan’s wonderful legacy, with Republicans strong advocates and critical of the Obama commitment to the program. The McCain amendment failed 37 – 59, with all Democrats and independents save Senator Joe Lieberman voting against and all but three Republicans (Lugar, Bennett, Voinovich) voting for. The strong hope here is that the Republicans, including McCain, were showing their strong commitment to missile defense but then will vote for the treaty on final passage.
During the debate, President Obama (whose family left for an Hawaii vacation while the President stayed in town until New START is settled) sent a letter to the Senate. Basically, it is a restatement of the Obama administration commitment to missile defense (ugh) while reiterating the unilateral statement that the U.S. does not agree with the Russian unilateral statement that a missile defense buildup could lead the Russians to withdraw from the New START Treaty.
Tomorrow, Sunday, the debate continues with an afternoon vote scheduled on a Risch (Idaho) amendment to the preamble of the treaty stating that the interrelationship between strategic and tactical nuclear weapons becomes more important as the numbers of strategic nuclear weapons decline. While the amendment sounds innocuous, it would amend the preamble to the treaty and thus is another killer amendment.
We still expect the final vote between Monday and Thursday and we still expect to be successful on final passage.
New START debate (Day 3 – December 17)
There was an awful lot of yakking again today in the U.S. Senate, but little real action.
After Senators droned on most of the day, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) finally offered the first amendment:
“In the preamble to the New START Treaty, strike “Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.”
If this amendment were adopted, and it won’t be, it would kill the treaty, because the Russians would have to accept the modified language.
After debating the amendment for a while, the Senate refused to agree to a time certain to vote on the amendment.
The amendment vote could still come tonight, or tomorrow, or Sunday or Monday.
The Senators agreed only to a finite list of missile defense speakers, as (approximately) follows:
Sessions (Alabama) – 30 minutes
Schumer (New York) – 5 minutes
Levin (Michigan) – 10 Minutes
Graham (South Carolina) – 10 minutes
Dodd (Connecticut) – 20 minutes
Kirk (Illinois) – 15 minutes
Barrasso (Wyoming) – 10 minutes
DeMint (South Carolina) – 15 minutes
Thune (South Dakota) – 15 minutes
Kyl (Arizona) – unspecified amount of time
McCain (Arizona) – also unspecified amount of time
Sessions (Alabama) – 30 additional minutes
Kerry (Massachusetts) – unspecified amount of time
Saturday morning, the Senate will vote on cloture (shutting off debate) on the Dream immigration act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. If cloture is invoked on either bill, and it is more likely on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, that becomes the bill on the floor.
There was a lot of Republican complaining that Majority Leader Harry Reid is diverting attention from New START by bringing up other bills, and implied threats by some of the complainers to vote against New START as a result, but it is not clear if they are serious.
The Senate returns to New START Saturday or Sunday or more likely Monday.
Everyone want to know when the final vote on the treaty will occur. So do I. All I can say is sometime between Saturday and Thursday.
Have a nice weekend.
New START debate (Day 2 – December 16)
The Senate debated the New START treaty all day. Sort of
It was not really a debate, but rather a series of speeches pro and con. The only real debate occurred when Kerry and Kyl engaged in some back and forth, particularly on missile defense.
Republicans were invited to offer amendments to the treaty or the resolution of ratification, but preferred to complain about the lack of time to consider the treaty and about voting on the treaty so close to Christmas. There were no amendments offered.
Those who spoke in favor of the treaty include: Kerry (Massachusetts), Lugar (Indiana), Cardin (Maryland), Boxer (California), Nelson (Nebraska), Mark Udall (Colorado), Shaheen (New Hampshire), Bingaman (New Mexico), Menendez (New Jersey), Dorgan (North Dakota), Conrad (North Dakota), Durbin (Illinois) and Casey (Pennsylvania).
Opponents who spoke include: Kyl (Arizona), Thune (South Dakota), Burr (North Carolina), Cornyn (Texas), Inhofe (Oklahoma) and Sessions (Alabama)
Two Senators were not clear about how they will come down: Isackson of Georgia (appears to be leaning for the treaty) and Chambliss of Georgia (appears to be leaning against the treaty)
While it was a boring and uneventful day, as I indicated yesterday, the 66 – 32 vote in favor of taking up the treaty started us off on the right foot, assuming we get to a final vote, which I think we will.
When that will be was clarified a bit tonight.
The Omnibus appropriations bill was pulled from the Senate schedule this evening because of a lack of votes. The 50 – 60 hours that might have been required to read the bill have disappeared and well as the 30 hours of post-cloture debate.
When the Senate returns to session at 9:30 AM on Friday, New START is up once again. Whether Republicans begin offering amendment is anybody’s guess.
Majority Leader Reid is filing cloture on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the DREAM act this evening, with the actual cloture votes to occur on Saturday. Thus Saturday is likely to be reserved vote debate on those two issues.
Best guess is that the Senate returns to New START on Monday. At some point, Senator Reid is likely to file cloture on the New START treaty to get amendments moving and concluded.
When the close will be and when we get a final vote – if you know the answer to that, you win the lottery. As usual, things could change several more times.
New START debate (Day 1 – December 15) – Healthy Start for New START
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.