Watching the lame-duck Senate debate the New START treaty has been maddening. For the better part of four days, Senate Republicans have been whining about process and time constraints, which, as previously noted, were of the GOP’s own making.
The lack of time, Republicans now complain, doesn’t allow for the proper consideration of amendments to the treaty. Yet, they wait until day three of debate to offer their first amendment — a fundamentally unserious amendment introduced by Sen. John McCain, whose performance throughout the START debate should serve as a reminder to American voters that the Senator from Arizona would have made a disastrous president.
McCain’s complaint was that language contained within the treaty’s preamble could potentially be exploited by the Russians to limit proposed U.S. missile defense programs. Political Correction published a detailed take down of McCain’s assessment, Dec. 17, but Washington Monthly blogger Steve Benen summed the matter well:
McCain has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. This isn’t a subjective matter, where reasonable people can come to different conclusions shaped by perspective and opinion; McCain is just completely wrong — the preamble is non-binding, and it simply describes the existing reality. McCain said the language will hinder missile defense efforts going forward, but the U.S. general in charge of missile defense says that’s backwards.
Reality notwithstanding, a growing number of Republicans rallied behind McCain’s recommended changes to the preamble, despite the fact that the language is non-binding, and despite knowing that approving the amendment would necessarily kill the treaty.
While the Senate has an obligation to advise and consent on New START, demands to change the text of the agreement — as was the case with McCain’s amendment — would effectively prohibit its ratification. It’s highly unlikely the Russians would renegotiate the agreement. Why would they bother with such a toxic political mess, one that’s poised to get worse with 10 additional Republicans joining the dysfunctional Senate in the next session?
It was extremely fortunate, then, that McCain’s demand for the treaty’s preamble to be changed failed. In the afterglow of the successful repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and following their receipt of a letter from president Obama seeking to allay Republicans’ concerns, the Senate voted down the amendment, 59-37.
As the president, once again, urged during his Dec. 18 weekly address, the Senate is expected to press on with debate and vote on New START before the end of the lame-duck session. It remains uncertain if the 2/3 majority (67 votes) required for ratification are secured. By Benen’s count, “It’s going to be tight…”
At this point, the head-count is looking shaky. To ratify, nine Senate Republicans would have to do the right thing, but at this point, I only see seven firm “yes” votes — Bennett (Utah), Brown (Mass.), Collins (Maine), Lugar (R-Ind.), Murkowski (R-Alaska), Snowe (Maine), and Voinovich (Ohio).
And as of Sunday, those listed by Benen and any other Republican Senator choosing to “do the right thing” will have to vote against the GOP leadership’s freshly stated position against ratification. Stay tuned.
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