The strategic nuclear arms treaty passed a key procedural hurdle on Tuesday when the Senate voted to bring the weapons pact between the United States and Russia to the floor of the Senate for a final vote.
The Senate voted 67-28 to pass a cloture motion, seemingly enough to assure final ratification. Eleven Republicans joined with 56 Democrats to pass the cloture motion.
It will take 67 votes to ratify the New Start pact, which would give the Obama administration its top foreign policy goal in the lame-duck session.
Throughout the day, GOP senators lined up to explain why they ready to vote for the treaty, which had been opposed by some top Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Jon Kyl of Arizona.
Among Republicans announcing their support were Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, George V. Voinovich of Ohio, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, and Bob Bennett of Utah. All voted for cloture.
Democrats have said for days that they were confident they would get the needed GOP votes. Arms-control agreements generally have bipartisan support, and this one was endorsed by past presidents from both parties and six former secretaries of State who worked for Republican presidents.
"I will vote to ratify the New START treaty between the United States and Russia because it leaves our country with enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to kingdom come and because the president has committed to an $85-billion, 10-year plan to make sure that those weapons work," Alexander, the chamber's third-ranking Republican, said on the floor of the Senate.
Republicans have argued that the Obama administration needs to increase funding for modernization of nuclear weapons and materials as part of its push for the treaty. The White House has added money for modernization, some of which will go to a nuclear facility in Tennessee.
Corker cited the modernization funds in explaining his support for the pact.
Under the treaty, Russia and the United States would limit the number of nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from the ceiling of 2,200. It also would establish a system for monitoring and verification.
The treaty was signed by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on April 8.
Obama has argued that the treaty was needed to ensure a reduction of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles. He also said the treaty will help relations with Russia, whose aid is needed on such issues as limiting Iran's nuclear ambitions and with the war in Afghanistan.
Republicans cited concerns about the verification regime and questions about whether the treaty would limit U.S. options in deploying missile defenses.
"Many of my colleagues have concerns about this treaty," Voinovich said, explaining why he will vote for the treaty, one of the last pieces of business remaining in the session. "But after my own research and consultation with current and former secretaries of State, numerous foreign-policy experts, including many conservative experts, as well as yesterday's three-hour closed session in the Old Senate Chamber, I support this treaty and do not believe that the concerns we have heard from some of our colleagues rise to the level at which the Senate should reject the treaty."
Earlier Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said a final vote was likely by Wednesday.
Mascaro reported from Washington and Muskal from Los Angeles