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Democrats cautiously optimistic they have votes to ratify New START

67 votes -- 10 of them from Republicans -- are needed to approve the New START arms treaty with Russia. The White House continues lobbying as the lame-duck session winds down.

December 20, 2010|By Michael Muskal

As the White House stepped up its lobbying, the Senate on Monday continued to battle over the New START arms treaty with Russia, one of the remaining issues in the lame-duck congressional session.

With 67 votes needed to approve the pact, Democrats were cautiously optimistic that they would garner as many as 10 Republican votes, which are needed to fulfill one of President Obama's top foreign-policy priorities for the session.

“It's going to be a real slog, house by house combat if you will,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y) told ABC's “Good Morning America” on Monday. “But I think we'll be there.”

The White House said that Obama was calling senators by telephone to push for support for the treaty, the latest step in decades of agreements with Russia on limiting nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

But GOP opposition to the agreement was continuing strong, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, said Monday in televised remarks from the Senate floor. McConnell summarized the arguments Republicans had made for delaying consideration until the new Congress was sworn in January.

“First and foremost, a decision of this magnitude should not be decided under the pressure of a deadline,” McConnell argued in explaining why he will vote to opposes ratification. “The American people don’t want us to squeeze our most important work into the final days of a session. They want us to take the time we need to make informed, responsible decisions. The Senate can do better than to have the consideration of a treaty interrupted by a series of controversial political items.

“No senator should be forced to make decisions like this so we can tick off another item on someone's political check list before the end of the year,” McConnell said.

Republicans also have questioned the effect of the treaty on U.S. missile defense plans, particularly in Europe.

The administration has insisted that the there no linkage between missile defense and the treaty ratification. In a letter over the weekend, President Obama again explained that there was nothing in the treaty that would prevent the United States from deploying a missile defense system.

“Is there no shame,” Sen. John Kerry of Massachusettes, head of the Foreign Relations Committee, asked Monday morning.  “This is a simple add-on treaty. This is not complicated. I scratch my head and am baffled when national security interests become wrapped up in ideology and politics.”

Kerry noted that the Senate already had spent more time on this arms treaty than it had on previous ones that had been ratified by lopsided bipartisan margins.

The Senate on Monday afternoon is expected to move into private session to hear classified intelligence dealing with New START. A vote is expected Tuesday.

Democrats can count on 57 votes from those who caucus with them, meaning 10 Republicans are needed. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) will be out for cancer surgery.

michael.muskal@latimes.com

Twitter.com/LATimesmsukal

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