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Republicans stiffen opposition to nuclear treaty with Russia

They insist there are too many questions and too little time left in this Congress to OK the arms pact.

December 20, 2010|By James Oliphant, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Senate Republican leaders Sunday took their most aggressive stance yet against a proposed arms control treaty with Russia, casting new doubts over its chances of approval during the remaining days of the current Congress.

The top two GOP members of the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), said they opposed ratification of the New START treaty, which requires two-thirds of the Senate — 67 votes — to pass.

McConnell, citing concerns about language in the treaty concerning missile defense, accused Democrats of trying to fast-track the agreement.

"All of a sudden, we're once again trying to rush things right here before Christmas Eve," McConnell told CNN. "I think that was not the best way to get the support of people like me."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) quickly responded, saying he was disappointed at McConnell's decision.

"I know many senators, including my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, who share the belief that this treaty is too critical to our national security to delay," Reid said.

Supporters of the treaty say its quick approval is necessary in order for the United States to resume close monitoring of Russia's nuclear stockpile.

There was one note of bipartisanship amid the discord. McConnell said that he and Reid had agreed on a deal to keep the government funded into March, guaranteeing a budget showdown in the new Congress, which will be partially controlled by the GOP.

Republicans are annoyed that Reid took time away from the treaty debate on the floor Saturday to advance a bill to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which ultimately passed, and the Dream Act, the citizenship bill for children of illegal immigrants, which fell victim to a filibuster.

In an interview on "Fox News Sunday," Kyl said whether the treaty received a vote depended on whether enough time remained before the end of session to consider Republican amendments.

"This treaty needs to be fixed," Kyl said. "And we are not going to have the time to do that in the bifurcated way or trifurcated way that we're dealing with it here, with other issues being parachuted in all the time."

Kyl warned that he would vote against the treaty if language in its preamble pertaining to a missile defense shield wasn't altered.

Democrats beat back such an amendment offered by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Saturday, which would have effectively killed the deal because it would have required the U.S. to return to the negotiating table. They defeated another proposed amendment Sunday that dealt with tactical nuclear weapons.

Reid may attempt to file a motion to cut off Senate debate Monday or Tuesday in order to set up a vote before Christmas Eve.

Kyl and other Republicans contend the treaty's language limits the U.S. capacity to deploy a missile defense system in Europe. In a letter to McConnell on Saturday, President Obama maintained otherwise.

"The New START treaty places no limitations on the development or deployment of our missile defense programs," Obama said. "We are proceeding apace with a missile defense system in Europe designed to provide full coverage for NATO members on the continent, as well as deployed U.S. forces."

Obama also used his weekly address Saturday to call for the treaty's approval. Ratification would hand him another political accomplishment heading into the new year, along with the bipartisan tax-cut deal and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

The White House continued to press moderate Republican senators to support the treaty.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate assistant majority leader, said on Fox News that he was still optimistic the treaty would be ratified before Christmas. "I think we need to bring this to a vote," he said.

joliphant@latimes.com

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