A colleague warned that the fate of New START would be riding a roller coaster in the post-election session, and was she ever correct.
On November 16, the treaty appeared fatally wounded when Key Arizona Senator Jon Kyl ruled out Senate consideration of New START during the lame duck session. His negotiations with the Administration and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry were still and forever on-going.
That switched in subsequent weeks, when a number of Republican Senators agreed that a deal was close at hand to bring the treaty up before the end of the year.
However, on December 1, all 42 Republican Senators signed a letter saying that no legislation could be considered until the Senate completed action on the tax bill and the appropriations bill. With those two measures still very much in flux and with the Senate slated to adjourn on December 17, that schedule apparently could not accommodate New START.
The challenges were heightened on December 8 when Kyl again stated there was insufficient time to take up the treaty before the end of the year. Kyl told Roll Call: “I just don’t think there’s time,” Kyl said Wednesday afternoon following lunch with the Republican Steering Committee. “I think pretty soon we’re going to have to recognize the reality of the situation and agree for a time for the treaty to be taken up next year.”
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry seemed to agree: According to Roll Call, “Kerry conceded that the Senate’s legislative schedule is quickly filling up as time is set aside for debate on a deal to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.”
At least two other senators, Lieberman of Connecticut and Hatch of Utah, talked about putting off the treaty until 2011.
Added Arizona Senator John McCain: “I’m optimistic that we could [reach an agreement] overall and I’d like to support” START, but, clearly, we’re running out of time.”
At that point, the Administration and our community launched a campaign to convince Majority Leader Harry Reid to keep the Senate in session as long as necessary to complete New START. We did so particularly because apparently Kyl and the Administration had finally resolved their disagreements on nuclear modernization substance, but that timing was the remaining question.
Yesterday, things turned again, and in a very positive direction. To that point, only one Republican Senator, Lugar of Indiana, had firmly endorsed the treaty. Two others, Corker of Tennessee and Isackson of Georgia, voted for the treaty in the Senate but had become squishy since then.
Council for a Livable World coordinated a group letter to the Senate Democratic leadership to that effect. The Administration continued pushing hard, even securing a “magnanimous” one sentence endorsement of the treaty by former President George H.W. Bush.
Yesterday, the ever-cautious-and-unwilling-to-commit Maine Senators finally endorsed the treaty. Maine Senator Snowe issued a statement praising the treaty and stating: “I am confident that New START will provide predictability in our relationship with Russia and thus enhance global stability, and most importantly, our national security.”
Maine Senator Collins also put out a statement endorsing the treaty, granting that the Administration had addressed her concerns.
Massachusetts Senator Brown sort of joined in: “I’m not party to any agreement right now,” Brown said. “I think we need to do taxes and the CR. Then we need to move on. The next thing I think we should do after that is START.” Not a full-throated endorsement, but getting close.
(Three days before, uncommitted New Hampshire Senator Gregg agreed with that sentiment: “I think we should bring it up. I think we should get it done.”)
Arizona Senator John McCain, who had earlier let his colleague Kyl take the lead on the treaty, gave further impetus yesterday, delivering a speech saying he hopes the Senate takes up the treaty before the end of the session. “We are very close.” He added: “I still hope we will be able to bring this up next week, and a lot of work is being done to that effect.…I think we are very close.”
Majority Leader Reid now appears ready to extend the Senate session to take up New START. “We’ll be here as long as it takes to get it done,” Regan LaChapelle, spokeswoman for Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Dec. 10. (CQ Today online news, Dec. 10, 2010)
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also added the strong voice of the Obama Administration to getting the treaty considered: “Congress won’t leave before Start is done. START will get done, and START will get done with a strong, bipartisan vote.” The White House has done terrific work to keep the treaty on the front burner even as it deals with many other issues on the front burner.
On Monday of this week, I was cautiously optimistic. On Wednesday, I was cautiously pessimistic. Today, I am cautiously optimistic. Who knows what I will be next week. It reminds one of the Perils of Pauline when the heroine had to be constantly rescued from the dastardly villains.
Stay tuned. The situation could turn several more times