In the wake of yesterday’s impressive 66 – 32 procedural vote in favor of moving to executive session to consider New START, the Senate spent the day “debating” the treaty – without considering any amendments to the treaty or the resolution of ratification.
Meanwhile, our military leaders continued to stress the national security urgency of prompt ratification. “We need START, and we need it badly,” proclaimed Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at Gen. James Cartwright at a White House press conference. Or as the Associated Press put it: “Military leaders dispute GOP on arms control pact”.
For the most part Senators gave speeches in support and in opposition to the treaty. Those who spoke in favor of the treaty included: Kerry (Massachusetts), Lugar (R-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 included: Kyl (Arizona), Thune (South Dakota), Burr (North Carolina), Cornyn (Texas), Inhofe (Oklahoma) and Sessions (Alabama). Senator Chambliss (Georgia) also raised numerous concerns, but did not indicate how he would vote. Despite repeated calls from Senator Kerry for amendments, Republicans offered none. Instead they complained about the lack of time to consider the treaty and rehashed substantive objections that have been addressed and answered time and time again over the past seven months. As Senator Kerry put it: “We’re ready to vote on the treaty. The only thing we’re waiting for are the people who say we don’t have time.”
Two moments from the debate stood out. First, immediately following a 45-minute statement from Senator Kyl, Senator Isakson (R-Georgia) gave a stirring speech about the importance of the treaty and his reasons for voting to support it in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Said Isakson: “I came to the conclusion that verification is better than no verification at all. Transparency is what prevents things like 9/11 from ever happening again.” While he did not join the majority in yesterday’s procedural vote, his impassioned defense suggests that he will support final approval of the treaty.
The second noteworthy moment was an evening colloquy between Senator Kyl (who once again made it abundantly clear that he intends to oppose the treaty) and Senator Kerry. The two Senators went back and forth on the Department of Defense’s plans to maintain and modernize U.S. nuclear delivery systems and missile defense. On missile defense, Kyl disagreed with the entire military brass in claiming that the treaty imposes meaningful limits on U.S. missile defenses and gives the Russians powerful leverage over the future direction of these programs.
Kyl made it clear that there will be amendments offered to strike New START’s preambuar language and Article V, Paragraph III of the treaty, which prohibits the conversion of ICBM and SLBM launchers into launchers for missile defense interceptors and vice versa.
Given some last minute changes to the Senate schedule before adjourning for the day, New START will be on the floor again tomorrow – the schedule after that remains murky. Will the Republicans begin offering amendments? Stay tuned.
UPDATE 12/17 8:30 AM: Due to Republican opposition, Majority Leader Reid has pulled the Omnibus appropriations bill from consideration in favor of a short term CR, which should be wrapped up by Saturday night to avoid a government shutdown. Reid also filed cloture on the DREAM Act and DADT repeal last night, meaning votes on those two issues will occur on Saturday as well. With the omnibus out of the way, the road should be even clearer to debate and vote on New START before Christmas (how soon before Christmas is anyone’s guess). Those Republicans arguing that the Senate shouldn’t consider New START at the same time as an enormous spending bill (a specious argument to begin with) no longer have that leg to stand on.